The lawyer for Genarlow Wilson, the young man imprisoned for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17, said she is working feverishly to get him out from behind bars.
On June 11 a Georgia judge tossed out Wilson’s ten-year prison sentence, as well as a requirement that he register as a sex offender. But hours later, the Attorney General said he would appeal the decision. Wilson, now 21, has spent more than two years in prison, where he must remain as the appeal proceeds.
“Genarlow is sitting around in prison even though a judge has ordered his release,” Wilson’s attorney, B.J. Bernstein heatedly told ESSENCE today. “But the fight’s still on.” Bernstein, who is working to have Wilson released on bond, has set a bond hearing for July 5. Douglas County District Attorney David McDade refused to agree to their request that Wilson be released pending the appeal.
On June 11, Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson voided Wilson’s prison term, and gave him a 12-month misdemeanor sentence with credit for time already served. Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker later said he would appeal the decision. Baker said in a statement that he tried to bring the defense lawyers and the prosecuting attorneys together in hopes of reaching a resolution. The statement further said that the prosecuting attorneys offered Wilson’s attorneys a deal that would have allowed him to plead to “First Offender Treatment.” This means his criminal record would have been dropped as well as the requirement that he register as a sex offender. The offer might have substantially reduced his sentence, possibly leading to his release based on time served. But Wilson’s attorneys rejected the offers,according to the statement.
Bernstein says the Attorney General’s statement is misleading. “The plea offer over the weekend included 15 years on probation,” she told ESSENCE. “They make it sound like he won’t be a convicted felon anymore, but that’s only after he serves 15 years on probation. A lot of people are saying, ‘Why don’t you just accept the deal and get him out now.’ And the answer back is, ‘Why are we going to give him 15 years on felony probation when we have a court order saying it’s a misdemeanor punishable be no longer than 12 months in prison?’”
Shortly after the judge’s announcement Monday that Wilson could be released, Wilson’s mother, Juannessa Bennett, said she had burst into tears when the news spooled in a fax to Bernstein’s office. She also told ESSENCE she felt “in her gut” that her son would be released this time, despite previous failed attempts to appeal his sentencing.
“I’m ecstatic,” Bennett breathlessly told ESSENCE just minutes after learning the judge’s decision. “It’s a miracle.”
But Bernstein recently told ESSENCE the Attorney General’s appeal has been devastating for Wilson’s mother. “She had a very rough day yesterday,” Bernstein said. “She really thought her son was coming home, and it’s just one more disappointment. We were happy about what the judge said, but until her child comes home she can’t rest.”
In 2004, Wilson was a college-bound honor roll student and star athlete. But when a videotape of a raucous New Year’s Eve party got into the hands of police, showing 17-year-old Wilson and several other attendees engaging in oral sex with a 15-year-old schoolmate, he was slapped with charges of aggravated child molestation. Under Georgia law, oral sex between teens is a felony if one person is under 16, regardless of the other person’s age. Even though the girl’s family did not press charges against him, Wilson was convicted and received a mandatory ten-year prison sentence.
Last year Wilson’s legal team successfully fought to change the law, reducing consensual oral sex between teens to a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of one year in prison. But the state’s top court ruled that the law could not be applied retroactively to free Wilson.
But today, Genarlow’s attorney is hoping an upcoming bond hearing will result in the young man’s release.
“We hope the judge is hearing he’s an excellent candidate for bond. He’s never been in trouble before this,’’ he said. “He’s appeared in court as he’s supposed to. He’ll be living with his mother. Those are the things that the court should consider deciding whether to let him out.’’
Talk about it: A Judge overturned the honor student’s conviction, but will he be set free?
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