Legislation intended to help Genarlow Wilson, a one-time high school honor student and star athlete who is serving a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for engaging in consensual oral sex with a schoolmate, has hit a snag in the Georgia General Assembly.
Last month, Sen. Emmanuel D. Jones, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would allow judges to change or suspend Wilson's sentence and hundreds of others like it.
The legislation was never placed on the calendar of the Senate Judiciary Committee, though.
The reason why became clear when Eric Johnson, Senate president pro tempore, a Republican, appeared on the Senate floor last week to denounce the bill, saying Wilson's sentence was harsh, but fair.
Last year the Georgia Senate passed legislation that changed the definition of most sexual acts between consenting teenagers from felonies to misdemeanors. The bill, later signed into law by Georgia's Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue, was supported by Johnson.
"There's certainly duplicity on the issue," Jones told The New York Times. "If you supported it last year, I don't see how you don't support it this year."
Under the law, a person convicted of Wilson's crime can serve no more than a year in jail. The Georgia Supreme Court later ruled the new law could not be retroactively applied to Wilson or others convicted under the previous statute.
Wilson, now 20 years old, is not eligible for parole. He has served approximately two years of a 10-year sentence.
Addressing his fellow lawmakers on the Senate floor earlier this month, Jones, sponsor of the latest piece of legislation, said, "I don't think this body intended to keep this child in prison for 10 years. … As we debate, Genarlow waits."
In a newspaper column that never mentions that Wilson was less than two years older than the schoolmate with whom he had engaged in the consensual sex, Johnson wrote: "People seem to forget that a 15-year-old girl was the victim. I stand with her. I also stand with future possible victims of politically correct apologists who want to turn loose convicted sexual predators."
Before his conviction, Wilson had never been in trouble with the law.
New Year's Eve 2004. Genarlow Wilson and a group of friends had the kind of bash no parent would want their teenager to attend. Crime scene investigators combing the room in a Days Inn in the small town of Douglasville, Ga., found evidence of drinking, as well as condoms and wrappers littered everywhere. Plus, there was a video camera.
In a portion of a tape obtained by "Primetime," Wilson, then 17, is seen having intercourse with a 17-year-old girl, who was seen earlier on the bathroom floor. During the sex act, she appears to be sleepy or intoxicated but never asks Wilson to stop. Later on in the tape, she is seen being pulled off the bed.
Other portions of the tape show a second girl, who was 15, and later said she did not drink that night. She was recorded having oral sex with several boys in succession, including Wilson.
The following morning, Wilson got a phone call that would change his life. He learned from a friend that the 17-year-old had gone to the police to report that she'd been raped.
"I was, like, 'What? When was this happening? Did this happen at the same party I was at?'" Wilson said. "It was shocking to me."