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Million dollars pledged in teen sex case

11 entrepreneurs offer to post bond for Genarlow Wilson during appeal.

June 26, 2007|Jenny Jarvie | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — Eleven entrepreneurs who have never met Genarlow Wilson have offered a $1-million cash bond to free him while his conviction on child molestation charges is on appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The former high school football star is 28 months into a 10-year sentence for engaging in consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. He's now 21.

Two weeks ago, a county judge voided Wilson's sentence, describing it as a "grave miscarriage of justice."

State Atty. Gen. Thurbert Baker appealed the decision, saying that the judge had no authority to reduce or modify the ruling and that the punishment must stand to ensure Georgia's 1,300 child molesters remained behind bars.

The state's high court agreed to hear the appeal in October, and a bond hearing has been set for July 5.

The latest twist in Wilson's highly publicized case was announced Monday by his attorney, B.J. Bernstein, who said at a news conference that she hoped prosecutors would consent to a "signature-only bond or a reasonable bond" of about $25,000.

If they do not, Bernstein said, Wilson's supporters will wire $1 million -- a figure usually reserved for murderers or flight risks -- on 24 hours' notice.

"The point of offering such a large amount is to show that supporters of Genarlow will do whatever is reasonable to secure his release," said Whitney Tilson, a New York-based investment fund manager who pledged $100,000.

Tilson secured pledges of $25,000 to $250,000 from 10 friends in New York, California, Texas and Massachusetts.

Tilson, explaining why he and his friends were prepared to offer $1 million to a young Georgia man they had never met, said Wilson seemed to have overcome many obstacles in his life to achieve academic and athletic success.

"He is the kind of young man we should be celebrating, not incarcerating," Tilson said. "And if you were to ask most men to go back and think of their teenage years and think of the most reckless and foolish thing they did, and then ask how they would feel if that was videotaped [as Wilson's incident was] ... I think there would be a little bit of fear among most of us."

Wilson was convicted in 2005 of aggravated child molestation. The law then on the books required a minimum of 10 years in prison and a lifetime on the state's sex offender registry for an oral sex conviction, a penalty more severe than that for intercourse.

In 2006, Georgia legislators changed the law to make most consensual sex between teenagers a misdemeanor, but they did not make the change retroactive.

"Why wait for a hearing on July 5, 2007?" Bernstein wrote to Douglas County Dist. Atty. David McDade on Monday, arguing that Wilson had no criminal record, made all previous court appearances and was not a flight risk.

McDade did not respond Monday to interview requests, but he told local media outlets that bond was not allowed in Wilson's case because he was convicted of one of Georgia's "seven deadly sins": murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated child molestation, aggravated sexual battery, and armed robbery with a firearm.

Bernstein, in turn, said that although bond was not allowed on direct appeal from the original conviction, it could be granted on a writ of habeas corpus.

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