Marcus Dixon, a black teen from largely white Rome, Ga., is serving 10 years in prison for having sex with a fellow high school student, 15, last year. She charged rape; Dixon said the sex was consensual. Dixon’s attorneys argued yesterday to the state supreme court that the sentence was unlawfully harsh. They said he should have been sentenced for statutory rape, carrying a maximum sentence of one year in prison.
The New York Times says the case is getting “growing attention from the news media, from opponents of mandatory sentencing. and from civil rights advocates who see Dixon as a victim of Old South-style injustice.”
Civil-rights leader cite the case’s racial overtones, but law-enforcement authorities say they are following the law. “We believe her story, we believe she was raped,” said District Attorney Leigh Patterson. Dixon, she said, had been reprimanded twice before for inappropriate sexual behavior. “This is not about race,” Ms. Patterson said. “This is about a sexual predator.”
A jury acquitted Dixon of more serious charges, but convicted him of statutory rape, a misdemeanor, and because of injuries to the girl, aggravated child molestation, carrying a minimum 10-year term. Five jurors said later they would not have voted to convict if they had known Dixon would spend so much time in prison.
Georgia lawmakers toughened sentencing guidelines in 1995, categorizing child molestation as one of “seven deadly sins.” Many who voted for the more stringent codes have said they did not realize aggravated child molestation could be applied to sex among teenagers.