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B.J. Bernstein, left, lawyer for Genarlow Wilson, embraces his mother, Juannessa Bennett, inside Bernstein's Atlanta office on Monday. Minutes earlier, Bernstein and Bennett learned that a state judge ordered Wilson released from prison. Prosecutors quickly appealed the decision, keeping Wilson behind bars for now.
AP photo by Jason Bronis
B.J. Bernstein, left, lawyer for Genarlow Wilson, embraces his mother, Juannessa Bennett, inside Bernstein's Atlanta office on Monday. Minutes earlier, Bernstein and Bennett learned that a state judge ordered Wilson released from prison. Prosecutors quickly appealed the decision, keeping Wilson behind bars for now.

Judge voids
10-year sentence

Notice of appeal delays man's
release in consensual oral sex case

By Shannon McCaffrey
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — A Georgia judge ordered the release Monday of a man sentenced to 10 years in prison for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17.

The judge threw out Genarlow Wilson's previous sentence and amended it to misdemeanor aggravated child molestation with a 12-month sentence, plus credit for time served. Under the new ruling, he will not be required to register as a sex offender.

But Wilson's release was delayed when the state attorney general filed notice that he will appeal. A prisons spokeswoman said he will not be released without "further guidance" from the attorney general or the original trial court.

More than 2 years served

Wilson, now 21, has been behind bars for more than two years.

"If this court or any court cannot recognize the injustice of what has occurred here, then our court system has lost sight of the goal our judicial system has always strived to accomplish ... justice being served in a fair and equal manner," wrote Judge Thomas H. Wilson, no relation to Genarlow Wilson.

The original sentence, for aggravated child molestation, was widely criticized on the grounds it was grossly disproportionate to the crime. State lawmakers later passed a law to close the loophole that led to the 10-year sentence.

"The fact that Genarlow Wilson has spent two years in prison for what is now classified as a misdemeanor, and without assistance from this Court, will spend eight more years in prison, is a grave miscarriage of justice," the judge wrote.

Georgia Attorney General Thurbert Baker said Monday afternoon that he filed notice of appeal "to resolve clearly erroneous legal issues created by the order."

Baker said in a statement that Georgia law does not give a judge authority to reduce or modify the sentence imposed by the trial court. He also said he will seek expedited treatment of the appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Tracy J. Smith, public affairs officer for state Department of Corrections, said: "Until further guidance from the attorney general's office or the original sentencing court, Genarlow Wilson will not be released today and if and when an order is granted, it will take three to four hours to process before he is released."

Wilson's lawyer B.J. Bernstein said she plans to apply for a bond to release him while the appeal is pending.

"It is extremely, extremely disturbing that the attorney general would take this action now," she said. "In essence the attorney general is saying, 'Keep Genarlow Wilson in prison for 10 years and keep him on the sex offender registry.' "

A Georgia Department of Corrections spokeswoman said the agency cannot take any action regarding Wilson nor comment on his case until it receives a copy of the judge's order. Wilson's lawyers said they expected to talk with prison officials in the afternoon.

Wilson's lawyers applauded and hugged his mother, who wiped away tears, as the order came over a fax machine.

Wilson's mother, Juannessa Bennett, said, "I just feel like a miracle happened."

A jury found the honor student guilty in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl during a 2003 New Year's Eve party involving alcohol and marijuana. Although the sex act was consensual, it was illegal under Georgia law.

Wilson was also charged with rape for being one of several male partygoers at the Douglas County hotel to have sex with a 17-year-old girl, but was acquitted. The party was captured on a videotape that was played for the jury.

Several influential people, including former President Jimmy Carter, stepped forward to support Wilson.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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