Even after a judge last month deemed Genarlow Wilson’s 10-year prison sentence “a grave miscarriage of justice,” the state of Georgia has kept him locked up. Twenty-eight months ago, a Douglas County, Ga., jury found the former star athlete and high school scholar guilty of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex, as a 17-year-old, with his girlfriend, then 15, at a videotaped hotel-room party on New Year’s Eve in 2004. On Friday, the Georgia Supreme Court heard an appeal by the state attorney general, who seeks to uphold the sentence.
The case, experts say, confronts the legacy of race-conscious justice in the South, as well as how attitudes toward teenage sexuality are evolving in the Bible Belt. The court’s ruling, if it favors Wilson, could even impel 1,300 other men serving long jail terms in Georgia for similar offenses to appeal their sentences. Wilson’s case has stirred enough of a ruckus to spark legislative reform at the statehouse. Earlier this year, Georgia lawmakers tempered tough state molestation laws by passing a “Romeo and Juliet” provision that takes into account similar ages of perpetrator and victim.