Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Justice Georgia-Style

Judge rules "No bond for Genarlow Wilson"; Bond hearing canceled, ruling could keep him in jail for months

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

A Douglas County judge ruled Wednesday Genarlow Wilson is not eligible for bond in his child molestation case, a development that could keep Wilson behind bars for at least several more months pending an appeal.

Superior Court Judge David Emerson issued an order canceling a July 5 bond hearing for Wilson. He cited a state law that prohibits appeal bonds for people convicted of Wilson's crime -- aggravated child molestation -- and who have been sentenced to five years or more in prison. Wilson is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.

"As the court has no authority to grant an appeal bond in this case, there is no need for an evidentiary hearing on the defendant's eligibility for a bond," Emerson wrote in his three-page order. "The motion for bond is dismissed. The hearing scheduled for July 5, 2007, is therefore cancelled."

Civil rights officials reacted angrily to Emerson's ruling.

"The NAACP is convinced that justice has taken a summer vacation in Georgia," said Dr. Francys Johnson, the organization's Southeast Regional Director.

Johnson called the order "the latest of series of rulings that strains common sense and leave the overwhelming impression that the system is working overtime to keep Genarlow Wilson behind bars."

The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a veteran civil rights activist and former Southern Christian Leadership Conference president, said he suspects racism and classism are at play in Wilson's case.

"I suspect it transcends race," he said at an impromptu news conference beside the tomb of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "I suspect a Latino, a poor white as well as a black probably get the same treatment.

"I doubt that one of the affluent Caucasians of Douglas County would get that kind of treatment," said Lowery.

All the defendants and victims in the case as well as state Attorney General Thurbert Baker, however, are black. And of the 1,322 men and women who are in prison for aggravated child molestation charges, 967 are white, 344 are black and the rest are of other races.

Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation for receiving oral sex from the 15-year-old girl at a 2003 New Year's Eve party. The age of consent in Georgia is 16. The law at the time required a minimum 10-year prison sentence for the crime.

The Legislature, however, changed the law last year to make the same offense a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison. Wilson, now 21, has served more than two years of his sentence.

This month, a Monroe County Superior Court judge threw out Wilson's prison sentence and reduced his conviction to a misdemeanor, calling his case a "grave miscarriage of justice." In making his ruling, the judge granted an appeal from Wilson's attorneys, who argued his prison sentence is cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution.

Baker has appealed the Monroe County judge's decision to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing the judge overstepped his authority.

Baker filed a request for an expedited review by the court, but the court rejected his request last week. The earliest date the case could come before the court is October. And it could take until April of next year to be decided.

Judge Emerson had scheduled the July 5 hearing to decide whether Wilson should be freed on bond pending the appeal. Douglas County District Attorney David McDade and Wilson's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, did not immediately respond to telephone calls for comment on Wednesday. Baker's office did not have an immediate comment.

However, McDade has previously argued Wilson is not eligible for bond since his crime is one of Georgia's so-called seven deadly sins. He also has said Bernstein was being "totally disingenuous" Monday when she held a news conference and called on him to consent to a bond for Wilson.

"The law is clear that he is not eligible for an appeal bond," McDade, whose office originally prosecuted Wilson, said Monday. "I don't know if Ms. Bernstein knows the law or not. I know the judge knows. This is a continuing saga in her three-ring circus.

"I don't try cases in the media," he said. "It is not where you're supposed to try your cases."

Bernstein denied McDade's assertions Monday, insisting that state law does allow for bond in Wilson's situation.

"He is looking at the wrong statute," Bernstein said Monday. "Georgia law allows bond for habeas cases. McDade does not know what he is talking about."