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Teenage sex offender is no predator

Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald & qctimes.com, April 3, 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

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.

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.

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