Four years ago, in Douglasville, Georgia, a 17-year-old high school senior made a fateful mistake, one that would cost a surprising price. During a New Year's Eve celebration, Gernarlow Wilson participated in consensual sexual act with a 15-year-old girl. He was charged and convicted of aggravated child molestation and received a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in State prison, without the possibility of parole.
Wilson is now 21 years old and has served over two years in prison. As a result of his conviction and consequent mandatory sentence, a new Georgia legislation went into effect in 2006, called the "Romeo and Juliet" law, which made a ruling that no other teenager prosecuted for engaging in a consensual sexual act can receive such a tough sentence. Had this statute been made retroactive or been in effect at the time of Wilson's act of sodomy, he would have only been convicted of a misdemeanor, have to serve a maximum of 12 months and not have to register as a sexual offender.
Such a serious legal contradiction has drawn local and national outrage, due to the fact that Wilson had no criminal history and was a star student. Many believe that his prosecution and consequent sentencing was overzealous and race-based. "The issue here is prosecutorial discretion. This is the reason Gernarlow has so many public supporters. It is apparent that the time doesn't fit the crime committed", B.J. Bernstein, Wilson's Defense Attorney said. "All we seek for Gernarlow is fairness, no special treatment. The thing about this case is that everyone knows that there is a problem here. Parents know. Black people know. White people know. What we are seeing is the politics of the war on crime. There was no discretion used in this case. No commitment to follow the intent of the aggravated child molestation statute. This law wasn't made for teens like Gernarlow," she added.
What Bernstein refers to is the ongoing campaign by the Douglas County District Attorney and the Georgia State Attorney General, Thurbert Baker, to uphold the rule of law, regardless of the mitigating circumstances of the case. Pleas for Wilson's release have come from various high-level American politicians, civil rights activists, news media organizations and even some of the jurors who convicted him.
In May 2007, former United States President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter to Attorney General Baker, in which he questioned whether Wilson's race had played a role...