U.S. civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton joined hundreds of demonstrators to demand the release of a man serving a 10 year prison sentence in Georgia for having consensual oral sex with a girl when they were both teens.
Sharpton embraced the mother and sister of Genarlow Wilson on the steps of the county courthouse before a cheering crowd that included state legislators. He said Wilson's case is of national importance.
"This boy is not only her son, he's your son, he's my son," Sharpton said. "We're here today because what affects you affects all of us."
The demonstration caps a series of twists in Wilson's fight to leave prison - a legal battle in which critics, including former President Jimmy Carter and Georgia lawmakers, have weighed in with their outrage at the sentence.
Wilson, now 21, is serving a 10-year mandatory sentence for aggravated child molestation stemming from a 2003 New Year's Eve Party where he was captured on videotape receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl. Georgia lawmakers have since changed the law, but the state's top court ruled it cannot not be applied retroactively.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan said that like the prison sentence for Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, which was commuted Monday by President George W. Bush, Wilson's punishment was also excessive and should be reduced.
"Genarlow is the face of many other young black men who have received injustice," Thomas Morgan said. "Somebody's got to stand up for them."
A judge recently called Wilson's sentence "a grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered that Wilson be freed. But Georgia's attorney general appealed, saying it could free more than 1,000 child molesters in the state's prisons, and the man remains jailed while the issue is addressed in the courts. A bond hearing scheduled for Thursday was canceled earlier this week.
The state Supreme Court is set to hear the case in October. Wilson's lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, had sought to get Wilson released on bond while the appeal moved forward, but a judge said the man was ineligible for bond under Georgia law. Bernstein is also appealing that decision.
Wilson also was charged in 2003 with raping a 17-year-old girl at the party, but a jury acquitted him of the charges. Five other male partygoers accepted plea deals. Wilson was also offered a plea before his trial, but rejected it.