Saturday, February 17, 2007

Action Alert: Petition to Free Gernarlow Wilson

Dear Friends,

I saw this story on CNN tonight and it broke my heart. I could not wait to sign the petition to free this young man. Please watch this story and do whatever your heart speaks.

To sign the petition go to:

Pamela Lyn

Georgia Man Fights Conviction as Molester
December 19, 2006

Genarlow Wilson, 20, is serving a prison sentence that shocked his jury, elicited charges of racism from critics of the justice system and even acknowledgment by prosecutors and the State Legislature that it is unjust.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison without parole for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's Eve party, an offense that constituted aggravated child molesting, even though Mr. Wilson was 17.

With Mr. Wilson -- a football player, honor student and the first homecoming king at Douglas County High School -- nearing two years in prison, the Georgia Supreme Court declined last Friday to hear his appeal.

Mr. Wilson, who is black, is trapped in a legal vise intended to ensure severe penalties for child molesters and other sex offenders, navigating a maze of legal technicalities that for him seems to hold nothing but dead ends. Some critics of the sentence also say Mr. Wilson is caught in a system that metes out disproportionately harsh sentences to black defendants.

Disturbed by Mr. Wilson's conviction, the Legislature changed the law in March to ensure that most sex between teenagers be treated as a misdemeanor. But the State Supreme Court said legislators had chosen not to make the law retroactive.

''While I am very sympathetic to Wilson's argument regarding the injustice of sentencing this promising young man with good grades and no criminal history to 10 years in prison without parole and a lifetime registration as a sexual offender,'' wrote Justice Carol W. Hunstein, ''this court is bound by the Legislature's determination that young persons in Wilson's situation are not entitled to the misdemeanor treatment.''

The problem with that argument, legislators on the judicial committee said in interviews Monday, is that the State Constitution prohibits retroactive laws.

Even more confounding, at the time of Mr. Wilson's offense, a so-called ''Romeo and Juliet'' exception had already been made for sexual intercourse between teenagers.

''Had Genarlow had intercourse with this girl, had he gotten her pregnant, he could only have been charged with a misdemeanor and punished up to 12 months,'' said Brenda Joy Bernstein, Mr. Wilson's lawyer.

Her client is not eligible for parole, only a reprieve that would not remove his name from the sex offender registry, Ms. Bernstein said.

The prosecutor, David McDade, the district attorney in Douglas County, west of Atlanta, says he has repeatedly offered Mr. Wilson the opportunity to resolve the case with a plea deal, adding that he would have to be treated similarly to the other defendants in the case, who are serving five- to seven-year prison sentences with a chance at parole. They, too, will have to register as sex offenders.

Mr. Wilson is adamant that he will not plead.

''Even after serving time in prison, I would have to register as a sex offender wherever I lived and if I applied for a job for the rest of my life, all for participating in a consensual sex act with a girl just two years younger than me,'' he told a reporter for Atlanta magazine last year, adding that he would not even be able to move back in with his mother because he has an 8-year-old sister. ''It's a lifelong sentence in itself. I am not a child molester.''

On New Year's Eve in 2003, Mr. Wilson and several friends rented a hotel room for a party at which they planned to have plenty of alcohol, marijuana and sex. One friend, goofing around with a video camera, captured much of the action on videotape. A 17-year-old girl reported after leaving the party that she had been gang raped. The tape showed that she was severely intoxicated.

A second girl, 15, also attended the party, but did not drink or smoke. She had what she later said was consensual oral sex with Mr. Wilson. But according to the law, a 15-year-old is below the age of consent. Mr. Wilson went to trial on charges of rape and aggravated child molesting.

After watching parts of the tape, the jury decided that Mr. Wilson had not raped the older girl. But it was bound by law to find him guilty of molesting the 15-year-old. Jurors said afterward they did not know that the charge carried a minimum sentence of 11 years, including 10 without parole.

Juannessa Bennett, Mr. Wilson's mother, said her son was crushed by the Supreme Court decision.

''We've got people that is in power that don't have no emotions,'' Ms. Bennett said. ''They don't sympathize.''

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