Genarlow Wilson freed from prison
Campaign wins release of unjustly jailed Black youth
July 14 march in Douglasville, Georgia, was one of many actions backing Genarlow Wilson and against harsh sentencing of African Americans. He served 3 years of a 10-year sentence after conviction for having consensual oral sex with 15-year-old classmate when he was 17.
BY LISA POTASH
ATLANTAGenarlow Wilson, a 21-year-old Black youth, was freed from state prison in Forsyth, Georgia, October 26 after serving nearly three years of an unjust, 10-year sentence. The Georgia Supreme Court ordered his release, calling his sentence cruel and unusual punishment.
The fight to win Wilsons freedom had received broad support, including a July 14 demonstration of 2,000 organized by the NAACP in Douglasville, a small town near Atlanta. It became a national focus of opposition to the disproportionate imprisonment and harsh criminal sentences meted out to Blacks.
The young man was convicted of felony aggravated child molestation for receiving consensual oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. On top of the harsh sentence, the law forced him to be registered for life as a sex offender.
Two days after his release, Genarlow Wilson received a warm welcome at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. He spoke briefly. Speaking to the press, he said, I just want to thank everyone. It feels real good to be free.
One of those in attendance was Kenyatta Simmons, a student at Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Lithonia, Georgia. She said in an interview, Genarlow Wilson should have never been in jail for two years and nine months. Simmons said she had joined a recent march in Jena, Louisiana, to protest harsh sentences threatened against six Black high school students.
Her friend Samantha Lundy, a student at Benjamin Franklin Academy High School, said Genarlow Wilsons case was incorporated with everything going on in Jena and is still going on in 2007.
Stephanie Simmons, a teacher in Decatur, Georgia, said she felt that the march in Douglasville, along with the ministers and others, opened up and educated people about Genarlow Wilson. Wilson and five other 17-year-olds were arrested in 2003 after police found a videotape of them having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old classmate. Wilson refused to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.
In a 2006 jailhouse interview with Atlanta Magazine, Wilson said, 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. The mother of the 15-year old herself stated that Wilson should never have been criminally charged and imprisoned.
After his sentencing, the state legislature changed the law, making the charge for which Wilson was convicted a misdemeanor with a one-year maximum jail term and no registration as a sex offender. But the change was not retroactive, so it did not apply to Wilson.
In June of this year, Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson ruled that Wilsons sentence violated the state constitution as cruel and unusual punishment. The judge reduced the conviction to a misdemeanor, resentenced him to 12 months, and ordered his immediate release.
Wilson was kept in prison, however, because state attorney general Thurbert Baker appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court and another judge ruled that he was not eligible for bond during appeal.
The state supreme court set aside Wilsons sentence altogether, noting that the law was changed only last year to make similar acts a misdemeanor.