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January 24, 2007

ESPN effectively covers Genarlow Wilson's sad saga

Genarlow_etick_skirm As of this writing, the front page of ESPN.com features this lengthy article on the Genarlow Wilson case from Georgia (which I blogged about at length last month).  The piece is entitled "Outrageous Injustice" and carries this sub-heading: "Genarlow Wilson, honor student and football star, had consensual sex with a fellow teenager. What happened to him next was a crime." 

There are many intriguing facets and new details in this major article on Genarlow Wilson (and also many moving pictures of Wilson in prison).  Here's is one notable passage:

No one involved believes Wilson should be in jail for 10 years.  The prosecutors don't.  The [Georgia] Supreme Court doesn't.  The legislature doesn't.  The 15-year-old "victim" doesn't.  The forewoman of the jury doesn't.  Privately, even prison officials don't.

Yet no one will do anything to free him, passing responsibility around like a hot potato.  The prosecutors say they were just doing their job.  The Supreme Court says it couldn't free him because the state legislature decreed the new law didn't apply to old cases, even though this case was the entire reason the new law was passed....

The legislature still could pass a new law that would secure Wilson's freedom, so [Wilson's  lawyer, BJ] Bernstein is pushing hard for that.  One such bipartisan bill was introduced this week, pushed by state Sens. Emanuel Jones, Dan Weber and Kasim Reed.  This is Wilson's best shot.  "I understand the injustice in the justice system," Jones says, "and when I heard about Genarlow and started studying what had happened, I said, 'This is a wrong that must be righted.' Everyone agrees that justice is not being served."

Genarlow03 Here is another passage that spotlights the reasons why prosecutors are resisting a resolution that would secure Wilson his freedom:

Every story needs a villain, and in this one, the villain's hat has been placed squarely on the head of [Eddie] Barker, the prosecutor and a former college baseball player.  Barker doesn't write the laws in the books to the left of his desk.  He simply punishes those who break them.

"We didn't want him to get the 10 years," he says.  "We understand there's an element out there scratching their heads, saying, 'How does a kid get 10 years under these facts?' "  In Barker's eyes, Wilson should have taken the same plea agreement as the others. Maintaining innocence in the face of the crushing wheels of justice is the ultimate act of vanity, he believes....

Barker is quick to point out that he offered Wilson a plea after he'd been found guilty — the first time he has ever done that.  Of course, the plea was the same five years he'd offered before the trial — not taking into account the rape acquittal.  Barker thinks five years is fair for receiving oral sex from a schoolmate. None of the other defendants insisted on a jury trial. Wilson did. He rolled the dice, and he lost.  The others, he says, "took their medicine."...

The folks in Douglas County are playing god with Genarlow Wilson's life.  "We can set aside his sentence," Barker says.  "Legally, it's still possible for us to set aside his sentence and give him a new sentence to a lesser charge.  But it's up to us.  He has no control over it."  The position of Barker and the district attorney, McDade, who refused to comment, is that Wilson is guilty under the law and there is no room for mercy, though the facts seem to say they simply chose not to give it to Wilson.

At the same time this trial was under way, a local high school teacher, a white female, was found guilty of having a sexual relationship with a student — a true case of child molestation.  The teacher received 90 days.  Wilson received 3,650 days.  Now, if Wilson wants a shot at getting out, he must throw himself at the prosecutors' feet and ask for mercy, which he might or might not receive.  Joseph Heller would love this. If Wilson would only admit to being a child molester, he could stop receiving the punishment of one.  Maybe.  "Well," Barker says, "the one person who can change things at this point is Genarlow. The ball's in his court."

Related posts on the Genarlow Wilson case:

January 24, 2007 at 11:13 PM | Permalink


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» Genarlow Wilson, Inmate #1187055 from Overlawyered
"Genarlow Wilson, honor student and football star, had consensual sex with a fellow teenager. What happened to him next was a crime." Once the target of recruiting efforts by Ivy League coaches, the Douglasville, Ga.... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 7, 2007 10:43:27 PM

» Genarlow Wilson Update from SexCrimeDefender
Another case of justice miscarried is being played out in Georgia where Genarlow Wilson has been sent to prison for a decade for consensual sex with a girl not much younger than himself. He has been there for over 2 [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 19, 2007 12:45:03 AM


90 days for abusing a position of trust and authority, a far more culpable offense (factually, at any rate)than sex with a schoolmate. This moral panic really must be reevaluated. Each time I read a story like this I am reminded of the Satanic Panic of the 80s, and the day care center controversies, when communities (including prosecutors) collectively lost their minds. The truth of the matter is that this conduct probably should not be illegal at all, if we were really honest with ourselves. At a minimum, it should certainly not be felonious.

Posted by: Alec | Jan 24, 2007 11:23:03 PM

The closer you look at criminal law, the more it seems that the statutes are just so many building blocks for prosecutors. If we fairly recognize the power inherent in the discretion of prosecutors, we might spend a lot more time studying and critiquing that than we do the law itself.

Posted by: Osler | Jan 25, 2007 12:20:05 AM

Where is the GA governor in the equation here? A pardon would set this young man free immediately. Virginia's then-governor Doug Wilder pardoned basketball star Allen Iverson back in the early '90's after Iverson was sentenced to 7 years in prison for his part in a brutal bowling alley beating. It can be done if someone is willing to step up. That said, if I remember correctly Governor Wilder issued the pardon on his way out of office ...

Posted by: Mark | Jan 25, 2007 7:47:46 AM

The commenters to this post should read the prior Genarlow Wilson posts.

Posted by: anonymous | Jan 25, 2007 11:01:12 AM

I don't think the Governor in GA has pardon power. There's a Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Posted by: Jay | Jan 25, 2007 5:08:16 PM

I don't think the Board of Pardon and Paroles or the Governor have the authority to grant a pardon in this case.

Georgia has a constitutional provision that denies either the power to grant pardons in sex offense cases where the legislature has established a mandatory minimum sentence as it did here.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Jan 25, 2007 6:50:19 PM

For a "crime" such as this, here in Britain and the rest of Europe, I think it would have been highly unlikely that a cop would even make note of it, let alone pursue it to the piont of bringing it to trial.

Any such action would be met with ridicule, from the public, his peers, the prosecutor, and if it were ever to be brought before a judge there would be someone going away with a flea in his ear, and it would not be the deffendant.

I have only given the case a cursory glance, but I note three factors, I am sure there are more; the kid is black, it involves the "icky" factor, which I write about in the link, and why am I not surprised, Georgia, which is also the setting for the linked story.


Posted by: Himself | Jan 26, 2007 1:22:14 PM

Isn't this really about prosecutorial discretion? From indictments to plea-bargaining to guilty pleas, prosecutors have all the power. To really change the system, we have to look at the front and the back-ends of the process.

Posted by: Laura Appleman | Jan 26, 2007 1:58:51 PM

A 15 year old is not developmentally ready to make the decision to have sex. The fact that an older student failed to control his behavior does not change the fact that the victim is a victim whether they thought so or not. We do not as a society put the burden on 15 years olds to sign contracts, vote, buy cigarette, buy cars, buy alcohol, or do much of anything. We believe that they should be left alone to mature at their own pace. At age 16, we largely give up, but they still cannot vote, buy beer, buy cigarette, or sign contacts. This teenager is an offender has his behavior is criminal. End of story. The consent of the victim is absolutely irrelevant unless we shift to them the burden to control their behavior and say no, rather than properly place the burden on the much older and more developmentally mature criminal to control themselves. No having said this, 10 years is too much. But commute the sentence, don't condemn the system, the jury or the law for trying to prevent this by pardoning a sex offender.

Posted by: Prosecutor | Jan 26, 2007 8:54:22 PM

Your description of Wilson as a "sex offender" falls within the letter of the law, to be certain, but Wilson is not a man most people consider to be a sex offender. Our laws should change accordingly. At best, this should be a regulatory offense with a fine; not a felony with a prison sentence.

Moreover, the "law" is not functioning properly in this area of Georgia when a local (white female) high school teacher sleeps with a student and is given 90 days. The disparity in the sentence is probably best explained by abuse of discretion. This young man's life is ruined.

Your analogy to voting, drinking, smoking cigarettes, driving and contract negotiations is immaterial. First, the law does not bother with parents who consent to their children drinking, say, a glass of wine at dinner (more than a few states have specific exemptions for this). Driving is a regulatory matter. Smoking is addictive, and also largely a regulatory matter.

Your comparison to the law of contract is also baseless. There are many exceptions to this rule to prevent minors from receiving the benefit of the bargain at the expense of the other party. A minor who contracts to purchase a car will be ordered to return it if he decides to disaffirm (although admittedly he can wreck it). Some jurisdictions have also found that minors can be compelled to provide restitution under certain circumstances.

Perhaps those sweet women at the candy store who took my money back in 1988 need to spend 10 years in prison for their predatory sales practices. Please. An 18 year-old high schooler who sleeps with a 15 year-old high schooler has been deemed culpable by our rather petty, puritanical and selectively enforced laws; he lacks any meaningful culpability. The victim here is Wilson, and the criminal is the state, as represented by Mr. Barker and Mr. McDade.

Posted by: Alec | Jan 27, 2007 4:36:44 PM

I am a high school teacher in Ohio. We are reading the book called Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. In this book there is a real crime, a rape. This rape was not reported and the narrator shares how her life changes because of this. Yes, it is fictional, but it has and does happen to real people. What happened with Genarlow was not a crime. If oral sex is a crime, our enrollment at our high school and junior high would go from 1200 to 200. I don't condone the behavior of kids today, but I can't for the life of me understand how oral sex is a felony and intercourse is a misdemeanor. I also don't know how Mr. McDade and Mr. Barker are so high and mighty? Have neither of them had intercourse before marriage or received oral sex before marriage? The law was made for pedofiles not high schoolers partying. They should be ashamed of themselves for trying to be God. They fix what they have done wrong. They can come out as "good guys" if they just "admit their wrong," quit playing God with a promising teen, and do their job the right way. They are not here to judge these kids for their extra-curriculars they are to make sure that order is maintained. If they can't find other better cases to work on then I wish my life was so boring too. By the way, for that woman that said a 15 year old isn't mature enough to make those decisions, she needs to get out in the real world. They make many more difficult life decisions than that. Also maybe the parent of the 15 year old needs more control????

Posted by: Molly | Jan 29, 2007 9:09:56 AM

RE: Laura Appleman, What is the problem? People who believe children and teens who experience sexual behavior, human contact, or nakedness are mature criminals, sex offenders, pedophiles and should be imprisoned, registered and punished as adults. The laws were based on ADULTS who sexually assaulted and/or murdered a child. It's very disturbing to have included our most vulnerable youths in these so called laws to protect children, GET REAL! Genarlow Wilson's story is one of the worst, but, we must realize, thousands of children are caught up in this mess. People really don't have a clue how massive this problem is. Don't just take my word for it, http://www.ethicaltreatment.org/ Check out the organizations and links you will see how massive and ugly this law is. Our children, families, and future generations depend on reform. Child abuse, is child abuse and is against the LAW ,END OF STORY

Posted by: Nancy | Jan 30, 2007 9:12:26 AM

This is ridiculous. Who hasn't done something like this? I can't believe this young man is in jail. We should all fight this!!!

Posted by: Leanna | Feb 14, 2007 11:30:25 PM

Honestly I think this really has something to do with race. People can't stand to see a BLACK MAN succeed in life!!! But hey like they say what goes around comes around. GOD intended this to happen for a reason!!!! Think about this whoever the prosecutor is!!!

Posted by: Kierstie | Aug 1, 2007 5:24:52 PM

As much as this may be a travesty of justice, the fact remains - EVERY CHOICE HAS A CONSEQUENCE. I am not judging the severity of the consequence...most would agree it is unreasonable. But, Genarlows actions are what resulted in his incarceration. As the founder of the Choices Foundation, a non-profit organization that helps young people connect - choice and consequence - ( http;//www.chuckgallagher.com/foundation.php ) I hope that when Genarlow is freed, he will use his notarity to help other young people understand the effect that their choices can have.

Posted by: Chuck Gallagher | Aug 18, 2007 10:37:09 AM

I am a white, middle-class, working mother of two daughters and grandmother of a boy and a girl. The injustices in this country shock me. This is not the American I thought I lived in!

I don't know all of the details of this case (how it came to be that Wilson was charged in the first place - i.e. who filed the complaint? was the victim white? etc.); however, I can say this: for today's average teenager, oral sex is not considered "going all the way." Add to that the fact that an 18-year-old boy is probably less emotionally developed than a 15-year-old girl, generally speaking, and any reasonable, thinking person would have to agree that this case is a travesty of justice. Who is "Prosecutor" kidding other than him/herself? - Wilson at 18 was no more developmentally mature than the 15-year-old girl (it is widely accepted that boys are "slow" to catch up to girls emotionally). And if Wilson is not granted clemency or a pardon, let's look at his life after prison: He will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life = extreme difficulty finding a place to live (i.e. where he will be ALLOWED to live), getting a job - as in no one will hire him if they know he is registered as a sex offender, much less an ex-con - and if he is lucky enough to get a job, it will be at minimum wage. As an ex-con, he will not be eligible for federal student loans, so his chances of getting a college education are extremely slim. This kid has NO future, except maybe in the ghetto (which is where, no doubt, Mr. Baker and Mr. McDade think he belongs). A firing squad would have been more merciful.

Posted by: Antonia M. | Sep 1, 2008 6:10:48 PM

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