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Videotape in teen sex case stirs uproar

A U.S. attorney says the tape handed out by a district attorney in Georgia constitutes child pornography.

July 12, 2007|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — First there was the Genarlow Wilson trial, which launched a debate here about teenagers and laws governing sex. Now a controversy is brewing over distribution of the videotape that shows the young man engaging in oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he too was underage.

Wilson, 21, was sent to prison for 10 years because of the consensual liaison, something his supporters have called cruel and unusual punishment.

After the 2005 trial, Douglas County Dist. Atty. David McDade released more than 30 copies of the tape to state lawmakers and the media -- saying, according to the Associated Press, he was required to do so by Georgia's open-records law.

Snippets of the videotape have been played on television news shows nationwide.

This week, Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones -- who has called for Wilson's release -- asked Georgia Atty. Gen. Thurbert Baker to investigate the tape's release, calling it a "disgrace."

The attorney general has not responded, but Wednesday, U.S. Atty. David E. Nahmias of Atlanta declared the tape "child pornography under federal law."

"Federal laws prohibit the knowing distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography -- that is, visual depictions of minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct -- under most circumstances," Nahmias said in a written statement. Those laws, he said, "trump any contrary requirement of the state's Open Records Act that may exist."

Nahmias' statement did not mention the Douglas County prosecutor. It said the U.S. attorney's office would "neither confirm nor deny" whether there was a criminal investigation related to the tape's release.

"We further advise anyone in possession of that videotape outside of law enforcement or judicial proceedings to return it to law enforcement or destroy it immediately," the statement said.

McDade could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In response to the Wilson controversy, Georgia legislators revised the law last year to make most consensual sex between teenagers a misdemeanor rather than a felony. However, the change was not retroactive.

In June, a Monroe County judge ordered Wilson released, but the ruling was blocked by the attorney general. The Georgia Supreme Court is to take up the matter at a July 20 hearing.


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