Genarlow Wilson in the prison yard at the Burrus Correctional Training Center in 2007.
Photo: AJC File
Photo: AJC File

Genarlow Wilson's 4-year legal case

  • Dec. 31, 2003: Genarlow Wilson and five other young men attend a drug and alcohol fueled New Year’s Eve party at the Douglasville Days Inn. He receives oral sex from a 15-year-old girl at the party. Wilson is 17 at the time.
  • February 2005: Wilson is convicted of aggravated child molestation for the sex act with the 15-year-old, a felony at the time that carried a minimum 10-year prison sentence. The age of consent in Georgia is 16. He was acquitted of raping a 17-year-old girl at the party.
  • 2006: Legislators make consensual oral sex between a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old a misdemeanor. Wilson’s attorney, B.J. Bernstein, had pushed for that change in law.
  • June 2007: A Monroe County Superior Court judge voids Wilson’s prison sentence and orders him freed. Former Attorney General Thurbert Baker appeals the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court.
  • July 2007: Wilson’s attorney and the attorney general’s office argue before the state Supreme Court whether Wilson should be freed.
  • October 2007: In a 4-3 vote, the Georgia Supreme Court overturns Wilson’s sentence and orders him freed from prison.

What people said about the case

“When people saw the extreme punishment that was laid out, the extreme sentencing, it was something that flies in the face of any rational person. And so when we looked at a high school student who made a mistake to be sure, engaged in behavior that none of us would condone but now thrown into prison entangled in a law intended to catch adult predators, thrown away into a prison with adults, it didn’t seem right, it didn’t seem fair and it did not seem to serve the best purpose of the public.” — The Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor, Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church

“Genarlow was a misguided young fellow who was very abusive of the young ladies. And we made it clear to him and his mother and the public that we did not support his behavior but felt that the punishment didn’t fit what had happened in terms of age and the new law. And eventually the Supreme Court freed him.”

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, longtime civil rights leader

“The severe felony punishment and sex offender registration imposed on Wilson make no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment.” — Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears, writing the majority opinion for the Georgia Supreme Court in 2007.


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