Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Free Genarlow Wilson

Genarlow Wilson is a man trapped. Trapped in a system that has proven itself inadequate time and again. Trapped physically within the confines of Burruss Correctional Training Center in Forsyth, Georgia. Trapped between high school and college. Labeled as a child molester, Wilson was slated to spend 10 years of his life in the Georgia correctional system for a crime that no longer exists. It all happened New Year's Eve 2003. Wilson and a group of friends threw a party that involved the "evil" weed (marijuana) and some alcohol at a local Days Inn. Some girls showed up and things started to get messy. One 17 year old girl began to have sex all over the place. Another 15 year old girl starting doling out oral sex like it was candy. The next morning the 17 year old girl woke up, realized what she had done and instead of admitting wrongdoing by having consensual sex with multiple men in one night, she cried rape. That got an investigation going and several of the partygoers, including Wilson, were arrested for their part in it. Wilson and his friends were facing serious charges, including rape (Wilson alone faced four felonies). His friends took plea bargains to avoid juries, but had Wilson accepted the plea deal he would have had to register as a sex offender and could not live at home where his little sister also lived.

So Wilson decided to take his chances with a jury. By the time the trial came, two of the charges were already dropped. The rape charge (obviously) did not stick, but he was convicted of aggravated child molestation for the consensual oral sex from the 15 year old (an act that the girl's own mother attested was initiated by the young girl). Unknown to the jurors who reluctantly convicted Wilson, the charge carried a 10 year minimum sentence without the possibility of parole and required the person to register as a sex offender upon release (Wilson was 17 at the time of the party and the 15 year old girl was one year shy of the age of consent in Georgia). The most baffling part of the whole ordeal is that had Wilson and the girl had intercourse, the harshest penalty would have been a misdameanor which would have had a minimal effect on Wilson who had no prior record. So this kid who was popular, smart (he was Ivy League-bound with interest from Brown and Columbia to name a few), and well-liked by his peers and teachers, has been handed a ludicrous sentence for an act that occurred consensually between two minors. How can you be a child molester when you, yourself, are considered a child in the eyes of the law?

The ridiculousness does not end there. The Legislature of the State of Georgia went back to the books and closed the loophole that sent Genarlow Wilson to prison for 10 years. However, in their infinite wisdom, they did not make the law retroactive and thus the change in the statute, which was urged due to Wilson's case, did not release Wilson from the miscarriage of justice that he has been subject to. And, the news that got this post running, a judge in Georgia has reduced Wilson's sentence to 12 months, less than half of what he has already served for his "crime." So that would mean he would finally be released, right? No, because Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker has appealed the case and Wilson must remain behind bars while the appeal is decided despite the fact that almost everyone involved in the case agrees that Wilson is the real victim.

This case begs so many questions about our justice system that baffle the intellectual mind. We need to look at the players in this case to come to a partial understanding of why all of this is happening. The first man to look at is the prosecutor Eddie Barker, who has been trying to prove he's a hard ass since the case was brought before a jury. He says that he does not write the laws, he only prosecutes those who break them and admits that 10 years is too harsh a punishment for what Wilson did. In the same breath he says that he should have taken the plea deal that his friends took, which Barker has called "taking their medicine," but that would have required registering as a sex offender and Wilson was not going to do that. Barker offered Wilson 5 years and the sex offender registry following his conviction, saying that it was a fair punishment for "receiveing oral sex from a schoolmate." On the other side of the coin, the DA's office in Douglas County Georgia has the ability to free Wilson, but refuses to. So while Eddie Barker thinks 10 years and the sex offender registry is the wrong punishment, don't expect him to actually do anything about it.

In a world where people get out of jail for some pretty bullshit reasons, and some people enjoy the benefit of innocent until proven guilty, a man down in Georgia is serving a preposterous sentence for a non-existent crime. I could get into the racial aspects of this case (such as a white prosecutor versus a black defendant, or white appeals judges voting to keep him in jail versus black appeals judges 4-3, and so on and so forth), but there are only 24 hours in a day. This is yet another example of how our justice system fails over and over again. Genarlow Wilson should not be in prison because he committed a "crime" that does not exist. Peace.

Photos - Top: Genarlow Wilson in high school (www.philly.com), Middle: Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker (atlanta.creativeloafing.com)

Information used in this blog post was taken largely from Wright Thompson's article in ESPN The Magazine entitled "Outrageous Injustice".

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