Former recruit's 10-year prison sentence voided

Updated: June 12, 2007, 11:07 AM ET
By Wright Thompson | ESPN.com

The 10-year prison sentence of former Atlanta-area high school athlete and honor student Genarlow Wilson, who was the subject of an ESPN.com E-ticket in January, was voided on Monday by a Georgia judge. Wilson's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, told ESPN.com that she is attempting to have him released as soon as possible, which would put an end to a long legal battle.

Thompson: Justice Prevails

Genarlow Wilson isn't a free man yet, but Monday's ruling in Georgia that reduces his sentence restores some faith in the justice system for Wright Thompson. Story

"Everyone had told us this is impossible," Bernstein said, "but Genarlow never believed that. Justice is never impossible."

The state appealed Monday's ruling, and it is possible that Wilson, 21, could remain behind bars pending the result of that appeal.

Bernstein told reporters she believes Baker is just trying to stop Wilson's immediate release.

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

Baker argued that Georgia law does not give a judge authority to reduce or modify the sentence imposed by the trial court. He said he would seek an expedited ruling from the Georgia Supreme Court.

Bernstein said she plans to look into filing a bond to have Wilson released while the appeal is pending.

Wilson has already served 27 months of a 10-year felony sentence for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Because of an archaic Georgia law on the books at the time of his trial, he could have been charged only with a misdemeanor if he and the girl had engaged in sexual intercourse. Subsequently, that law was changed; but Wilson remained in jail, which led to editorials in The New York Times and a letter from former president Jimmy Carter protesting the injustice of Wilson's original sentence.

Genarlow Wilson
Tracy Smith for ESPN.comGenarlow Wilson's time as a prisoner at the Burruss Correctional Training Center might finally be coming to an end.
Wilson's legal troubles began when he and a group of friends were charged with aggravated child molestation and rape following an alcohol- and marijuana-fueled New Year's Eve party. The jury, which repeatedly was shown a videotape the boys had made of the party, determined that no rape had occurred. But since Wilson admitted to receiving oral sex from someone under the age of 16, the charge was aggravated child molestation. The jury, under the existing law, was forced to convict him.

He went to jail in February 2005 and started his attempt to regain his freedom almost immediately.

His lawyers succeeded in having the law that put him in jail changed, but the Georgia state legislature declined to make that law retroactive. So the legal team tried again, working to have a new law passed, an effort that ultimately failed. That left Wilson's lawyers with a final Hail Mary: They filed a writ of habeas corpus and asked a judge to void the sentence. On Monday, that happened.

The Superior Court of Monroe County in the State of Georgia reduced the charge to misdemeanor aggravated child molestation and ordered that Wilson's name not be placed on the sex-offender registry. Wilson was resentenced to 12 months and given credit for time served.

The finding of fact and conclusions of law in the order stated that "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. If any case fits into the definitive limits of a miscarriage of justice, surely this case does."

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at wrightespn@gmail.com. Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Wright Thompson | email

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
Wright Thompson (@wrightthompson) is a senior writer for ESPN.com and The Magazine. He has been featured in seven editions of Best American Sports Writing and lives in Oxford, Mississippi.

ALSO SEE