Genarlow Wilson's Tragic Sentencing for Consensual Oral Sex
Last Monday, June 11, a judge finally dismissed the sentence of Genarlow Wilson, the honor roll student and homecoming king serving ten years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old when he was 17. In granting Wilson's habeas corpus petition, Georgia Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson wrote that it would be a "grave miscarriage of justice" for Wilson to be kept in prison for the remaining eight years of his sentence.
Yet, immediately after the judge's ruling, Georgia's attorney general, Thurbert E. Baker, filed a notice saying that his office would appeal the decision, leaving Wilson stuck in jail. Baker's actions have not only robbed Wilson of his long overdue freedom, they epitomize the insanity of a justice system that seems hell-bent on criminalizing young black men.
At a New Year's Eve party in 2003, Wilson had consensual oral sex with another teen -- she was 15 and he was 17. Under an old Georgia law, he was convicted of aggravated child molestation, a charge intended for adult sexual predators. Sexual intercourse with the same girl would have been a misdemeanor under a "Romeo and Juliet" exemption for contact between minors; but because the exemption did not mention oral sex, Wilson, an honors student and star athlete with no prior criminal record, received a mandatory ten-year sentence without possibility of parole.
No one, from his teen "victim" to the jurors at his trial, wanted Wilson to go to jail, but at every turn the Georgia justice system and Georgia's legislature failed him -- first convicting him under an archaic law; then passing a law to include oral sex in the minor's exemption but not writing the law so it would apply retroactively; and finally refusing to bring a second bill up for a vote that would have retroactively applied the oral sex exemption and allowed for Wilson's release. It's hard to believe that race is not a factor in this case.
At the same time Wilson was being tried, Kari McCarley, a white 27-year-old teacher, was being tried in the same courthouse for having sex with a 17-year-old student. She got 90 days in jail and three years of probation. While Wilson's prosecutor, David McDade, has claimed that he was "standing up for African-American victims in this case," he hardly seems credible, since the "victim" did not want to press charges and did not even testify for the prosecution.
In his statement overturning Wilson's sentence on Monday, Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson said: "If any case fits into the definitive limits of a miscarriage of justice, surely this case does." Why, then, is Georgia's attorney general trying to keep Wilson in jail? Baker says he's compelled to appeal, but as attorney general, appealing is completely at his discretion. Baker is ignoring the outrage of nearly everyone associated with the case, and thousands of Americans across the country, by keeping this innocent young man in jail.
In his order granting Wilson's release, Judge Wilson wrote: "If this court, or any court, cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish: Justice being served in a fair and equal manner." Baker's actions are clearly at odds with justice being served in this case. It's time that he withdraws his appeal so Genarlow Wilson can finally come home.
You can add your voice to more than 15,000 others demanding that Baker drop his appeal by clicking here, or you can call his office directly at 404-656-3300.
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Van Jones is executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, Calif. James Rucker served as director of Grassroots Mobilization for MoveOn.org Political Action and Moveon.org Civic Action from the fall of 2003 through the summer of 2005.