Archive for Monday, April 2, 2007

Georgia’s legal act of child abuse

April 2, 2007


It was not exactly Richie and Potsie getting lucky up at Inspiration Point.

Not, in other words, what people of a certain age are inclined to think of when they think of teen sex: girls who put out and guys who reach third base. Rather, it was a squalid, loveless and depressing example of what teen sex too often devolves to these days: a New Year's Eve party in adjacent hotel rooms, a cache of liquor and marijuana, and at least two girls servicing at least six boys, orally and vaginally, while a video camera ran.

Three years later, Genarlow Wilson of Douglasville, Ga., is a convicted child molester serving 10 years without parole for what happened that night. Last week, the Georgia Senate allowed a legislative deadline to pass without taking action on a bill that would have empowered a judge to reconsider - and reduce - his sentence. But Emanuel D. Jones, a senator who co-sponsored the bill, says that isn't the end of it.

He told me, "We are looking for another vehicle we can attach it to, another bill we can amend. And I will find one. ... This bill isn't going to die until I'm dead."

If you're wondering why all this sympathy for a child molester, there are a few things you need to know. First, the "child molester" was 17 at the time of the crime. Second, the "child" was 15. Third, she willingly performed oral sex on him. In fact, she initiated it.

None of that is in dispute. But the next day, the girl told police she had been gang raped. And three years later, Wilson sits in prison, waiting for justice to prevail, willing to settle for plain old common sense.

Jones calls this "unconscionable" and the word is apt - especially when you consider that as Wilson's trial was unfolding, a 27-year-old teacher was being found guilty just down the hall of sex with a 17-year-old student - the kind of crime for which child molestation statutes were written. She got three years' probation and 90 days in jail.

Makes you wonder what the hell is wrong with Georgia. Makes you think it's wearing its Bible belt too tight.

After all, we're talking about the same state that in 2003 gave 18-year-old Marcus Dixon 15 years for having consensual sex with a 15-year-old girl. Race hung over that case like a bad smell: Dixon was black and the girl, white. The smell has been less pronounced here, where both accused and accuser are black. Still, it did not escape the notice of Atlanta magazine that there are major disparities in the treatment of black kids and white ones facing Georgia justice. Or that the teacher who got off with a wrist slap was - big surprise - white.

For the record, Wilson - like the other five young men who stood trial for what happened that night - was offered a plea bargain. The others accepted. Wilson refused. Most of them had been in trouble before, but Wilson was a homecoming king with a 3.2 GPA and no criminal record, a budding football star before whom college coaches were dangling scholarships.

He could not see himself admitting to something he did not do, becoming a registered sex offender, having that follow him the rest of his life, being forbidden even to live in the same house with his younger sister. So he turned them down and waited for justice or common sense or just somebody to understand he wasn't a child molester, he was a kid who had sex with another kid.

Instead, he got 10 years from a judge bound by that monstrosity of the "tough on crime" era, mandatory sentencing guidelines. Georgia took this black kid's future and flushed it away.

Even the prosecutor says the sentence was "fairly harsh." The "victim" agrees. The jury forewoman told Atlanta that when the panel realized its verdict meant 10 years in jail, "the room exploded."

None of which helps Genarlow Wilson, still waiting for justice, willing to settle for common sense. Yes, he did a stupid and ugly thing. But he did not abuse a child.

Georgia, however, did.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


Ragingbear 10 years, 11 months ago

There is a HUGE difference between 15 and 17 Leonard. Stop trying to endorse pedophilia because you want to get involved with underage girls.

Ragingbear 10 years, 11 months ago

Make all the excuses you want, but it doesn't change the fact that a 17 year old doesn't have any business having sex with a 15 year old.

ladysappho 10 years, 11 months ago

While I completely agree with the substance of this editorial, there are a couple of errors of fact to which I would like to draw your attention.

You say "the next day, the [15 year old] girl told police she had been gang raped". That is not what happened. The 15 year old was honest. She has admitted that she initiated the oral sex and has taken responsibility for her own behaviour. Rather, it was the 17 year old girl, with whom he as well as the other boys had vaginal sex, who claimed she had been gang raped. She woke up in the morning and cried rape. The police investigated the scene and found a video camera on which the night's events had been recorded. It was there that they saw the 15 year old girl performing oral sex.

At the time, oral sex with an underage person was called "aggravated child molestation" and attracted a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, 1 year on parole, and life on the sex offenders registry. In a cruel twist, had they had vaginal sex with the 15 year old girl, the punishment would have been much less. The law has since been changed to allow a "Romeo and Juliet" exemption for cases just like Genarlow's - in fact, it was his case that prompted the change - but the law was not made retrospective so it didn't help him at all.

The jury found him not guilty on the charge of rape of the 17 year old girl but, based on the law, felt that they had no choice but to convict on aggravated child molestation. They did not realise that the penalty was a mandatory and very harsh sentence. The DA could still offer a lower sentence, and has done, but he maintains that the jury wanted to convict of rape (statements from jurors not withstanding), that the boy should show remorse, and that he will go on the sex offenders registry. Basically, he wants the penalty to be the same as it was for the others although Genarlow was found not guilty of one of the charges.

The other error you made, IMO, was to refer to "mandatory sentencing guidelines". They are no such thing. The word "guidelines" suggests that the judge has a choice. His only choice would have been to impose a greater sentence. The legislation at the time laid down the mandatory minimum sentence for conviction of this offence.

Genarlow sits in prison, a convicted child molester, for receiving a blow job from a girl who was only 2 years his junior. What's more, because of the way the law was written, there is no hope of pardon or mitigation from anyone other than the DA or a new law which allows his sentence to be reviewed. The Governor and the Pardons Board are both unable to act. That makes what has happened most recently in the Georgia legislature even worse. They are his only hope.


Confrontation 10 years, 11 months ago

I'm willing to bet that almost every adult knows a Junior in high school who slept with a Freshman. I remember at least 10 couples like that in my high school. I'm not saying that it's a super thing to do, but it's not a crime worth 10 years in prison. The parents who let their kids have an orgy in a hotel room really need to spend some time behind bars.

gr 10 years, 11 months ago

I can't help wondering what a 15 year old is doing at a New Year's Eve party in a hotel room.

By the way, if the original intent of the arrest was because of the 17 year old girl, isn't the tape evidence of the 15 year old somehow illegal evidence?

Kind of makes you wonder what the point of all this "sex education" in schools is. They encourage kids to have sex - "safe" sex that is - and then the kids get into trouble when they do?

Ragingbear 10 years, 10 months ago

This is America Agnostick, nobody has to accept blame for their actions. We just pass the buck to other people and complain about it.

Also, do not email me arguments for your PoV again.

ladysappho 10 years, 10 months ago

What about the hotel owner, the desk clerk? Any way you slice it, adults gave these kids access to the hotel rooms. >>>

It is not illegal, thankfully, to rent hotel rooms to teenagers and there may be many legitimate reasons for teenagers to want to rent rooms. To attempt to hold the hotel staff/owner responsible for what went on in the hotel room is bizarre, IMO.


ladysappho 10 years, 10 months ago

By the way, if the original intent of the arrest was because of the 17 year old girl, isn't the tape evidence of the 15 year old somehow illegal evidence? >>>

If you mean that it counts as an illegal search because they were looking for evidence of a different crime when they found it, I don't believe that's the case. They had, one assumes, a legitimate warrant for a search of the premises following the report of a crime. Evidence of other crimes uncovered during such a search is not, in my understanding, illegal evidence.

If, OTOH, you are referring to wiretapping law, my understanding is that if the police had taped it without the appropriate approvals, it would be illegal evidence. However, if it was taped by someone else, the tape can be admitted as evidence. There's a case in Sydney at the moment where a 17 year old girl was gang raped and the rape was filmed by the attackers. One would want that tape to be able to be admitted into evidence and, legally, there appears to be no problem doing so. I don't think the situation is different in the US.

One interesting question that occurs, though, is why no-one appears to have been charged with creating child porn ...


whistlestop75 10 years, 10 months ago

I think IF you re-read the article you might come away with a different perspective...racism is what motivated this editorial. He is saying the Georgia Legislature does not care about a young black man to let him sit in prison when on the same day he was convicted, in the courtroom down the hall, a young white female teacher JUST got probation...the commentors of the forum missed the point. The writer of this article should have included the number of white vs. black legislators in the Georgia statehouse and maybe we could make a decision on that one...

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years, 10 months ago

In 1939 my 16 year old mother married my 27 year old father. They stayed married for 50 years before his death. So was he perverted? He never had sex with another 16 year old, and as far as I know he never had sex with anyone else. Back then many women married young, and often married older men. They weren't considered perverted then, why now? This case doesn't involve love, but you have to understand that girls are much more advanced than boys. And nowadays, girls are given the message they should do whatever they can to have a man. It takes a lot for a girl not to give into this message. Of course, feminism tried to teach girls they don't need a man to be real, but then they got labeled feminazis, and the girls were told they have to put out to be cool. Also, parents don't give their kids curfews anymore. There is nothing that a teenager should be doing after midnight other than being at home asleep or watching TV. Our 17-year-old still has a midnight curfew on weekends, 10:00 weekdays. Parents have turned into wimps.

Godot 10 years, 10 months ago

Leonard is so committed to the victim status of the black man that he must now cast underage, black girls, as the perpetatrators.

Pitts is, and always has been, a third rate hack.

Porter 10 years, 10 months ago

gr, I can't believe you actually typed this:

"Kind of makes you wonder what the point of all this "sex education" in schools is. They encourage kids to have sex - "safe" sex that is - and then the kids get into trouble when they do?"

One of the primary reasons for sex education is so that kids know what sex is. When you keep telling your daughter that sex is just "something that adults do" it encourages sexual behavior. When you're honest with kids, they'll respect you and (hopefully) understand the consequences of their actions. When you lie and hide things from them, they'll get knocked up or arrested.

Don't try to tell me things were any different when you were a kid. I may not be a cranky ol' curmudgeon who remembers the 50s, but I'm knowledgeable enough to know that babies were born out of wedlock long before a sex education textbook was ever printed.

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