June 26, 2007 -- Genarlow Wilson, a 21-year-old man from Georgia, still sits in jail today despite the fact that earlier this month a judge declaredhis 10-year felony sentence a "grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered him freed.
Wilson has already served two years of his sentence for receiving consensual oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was17.
A bond hearing is set for July 5, but Wilson's attorney B.J. Bernstein argues on a Web site she set up for Wilson that the hearing would be unnecessary if Douglas County District Attorney David McCade would agree to set bail. Bernstein argues there is no reason why Wilson can not be freed while Georgia Attorney General Thurbet Baker appeals the decision.
The Price for Freedom? $1 Million
On Monday New York City investment manager Whitney Tilson announced that he and 10 other business managers would immediately wire a $1 million cash bond for Wilson's release.
Tilson, also a founder of Teach for America, a highly selective program that places college graduates into severely underprivilegedschools, told ABC News that although he at first did not want to gopublic with his bond offer, he realized that $1 million couldhelp to draw more attention to Wilson's case. Tilson said he hopes totake some small part in righting what he also calls a "miscarriage of justice."
"When I first heard about the case in a New York Times editorial, I Googled Genarlow Wilson and came across wilsonappeal.com," Tilsonsaid. "So I contacted Wilson's attorney to see if there was anything I could do…I didn't think I would hear from her but I got a phone call last Thursday and she said that a million dollar cash bond couldhelp."
"It's deliberately an exceedingly large number," Tilson added. "The million dollars is meant to show how passionately we believe thatevery single day this young man sits in prison it is a continuance ofthis miscarriage of justice."
Wilson's attorney said she feels an appropriate bail for Wilson could be as low as $25,000.
Tilson was very happy to donate his $100,000 share. He then solicited friends — many of them also money managers — to put up the rest of the funds. "I contacted 20 friends and half of them said yes," Tilson told ABC News.
As a founder of Teach for America and a board member of KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) — an organization that supports a networkof charter schools — Tilson was in a unique position to evaluateWilson's extreme predicament.
Celebrating, Not Incarcerating
"In reading Genarlow's story I can appreciate the enormous obstacleshe has had to get where he was," Tilson told ABC News. "He had a 3.2GPA, he stayed out of trouble — he is the kind of person we in this country should be celebrating, not incarcerating. There is no questionthat he was reckless and foolish on that night but there is such adisconnect between the nature of his transgression and thepunishment."
"It is an enormous tragedy. A young man was on his way to college andnow his whole life is destroyed — and for what?"
Tilson also notes that while the Georgia state legislature has sincechanged the law that allowed Wilson to be punished for consensual oral sex with another teenager, the new law does not apply retroactivelyand so it does not help in Wilson's case.
"This borders on the absurd," Tilson said. "My hope is that basichumanity and common sense would eventually prevail here. Genarlow has suffered enough."
Former President Carter: 'Really Not Fair'
Even former President Jimmy Carter has spoken out againstWilson's now two-year incarceration, writing to Attorney General Thurbert Baker and characterizing Wilson's punishment as"disproportionate." Carter also referred to the law's failure to applyretroactively to Wilson (whose case seems to be the very catalyst for the legal change) by asking, "How can you make the law apply to peopleafter…and not make it apply for all? That is really not fair."
Baker could not be reached immediately for comment, but in an open letter on his government Web site, Baker suggests thatalthough he may disagree with the punishment in Wilson's case, hishands are tied by the law.
"The state legislature could still retroactively reduce the mandatory 10-year sentencing requirement, or the Georgia Supreme Court couldrule the sentence unconstitutionally harsh as applied to Mr. Wilson.The attorney general can do neither," he wrote. "While this matter is on appeal, I personally would not oppose bond for Mr. Wilson. That isa matter, however, solely within the purview of Wilson's attorneys,the Douglas County district attorney and the trial judge."
Bernstein maintains that it is McCade who isstanding in the way of Wilson's release.
"The request for bond is not grandstanding, it is the law," Bernsteintold ABC News. "Genarlow has served enough. He wants to be free – nosex offender registry, no long-term court supervision. This is a misdemeanor and it should be treated as such."
As for Whitney Tilson, he hopes that the bond money will be acceptedby the state of Georgia and has this to say to Wilson: "Hang in there…I am cautiously optimistic for your freedom."
Caution and optimism – in two years Genarlow Wilson has surely learnedmuch about both.