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Genarlow Wilson released after Georgia Supreme Court decision

FORSYTH, Ga. -- A former high school football star given 10
years in prison for having consensual oral sex with another
teenager was freed Friday by Georgia's highest court, which ruled
that his sentence amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.


Genarlow Wilson spent two years behind bars in the case that led
to widespread protests of racism and heavy-handed justice.

"I was in total disbelief," Wilson told reporters outside the
prison. "I'm finally happy to see we've got justice now."


Wilson, 21, also said he wants to help other teens and offered
some advice: "They should be very hesitant before they join
certain crowds and make certain decisions."


In its 4-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court noted that state
lawmakers had scrapped the law that required a minimum 10-year
prison term.


That change, the court said, represented "a seismic shift in
the legislature's view of the gravity of oral sex between two
willing teenage participants."


Wilson, who was the homecoming king at Douglas County High, was a track and football star that would have played college football, his coaches said. He was all-conference in football and even held future NFL first-round draft pick Calvin Johnson to four catches in two games, according to his coaches.

The justices also said Wilson's sentence made "no measurable
contribution to acceptable goals of punishment," and his crime did
not rise to the "level of adults who prey on children."


After he was imprisoned, Wilson became the subject of prominent
editorials and national news broadcasts. His sentence was denounced
even by members of the jury that convicted him and the author of
the 1995 law that put him in prison.


Supporters including former President Jimmy Carter said the case
raised troubling questions about race and the justice system.
Wilson and the girl are both black.


Wilson was
convicted of aggravated child molestation after he was videotaped
having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl at a 2003 New Year's Eve
party in a hotel room. He was 17 at the time.


Wilson was acquitted of raping another 17-year-old girl at the
party.


State Attorney General Thurbert Baker said he hopes Friday's
ruling puts "an end to this issue as a matter of contention in the
hearts and minds of concerned Georgians and others across the
country who have taken such a strong interest in this case."


The man who prosecuted Wilson, Douglas County District Attorney
David McDade, said he disagreed with the decision, but he respects
the court "as the final arbiter."


Wilson's supporters were jubilant.


"I never gave up hope in our judicial system, and I never gave
up hope in all the prayers people sent out for us," said Wilson's
mother, Juannessa Bennett.


Rep. John Lewis, an Atlanta Democrat, said: "Each day that this
young man spent in prison was a day too long."


The 1995 law Wilson violated was changed in 2006 to make oral
sex between teens close in age a misdemeanor, similar to the law
regarding teen sexual intercourse. But the state Supreme Court
later upheld a lower-court ruling that said the 2006 law could not
be applied retroactively.


The high court had turned down Wilson's appeal of his conviction
and sentence, but the justices agreed to hear the state's appeal of
a judge's decision to reduce Wilson's sentence to 12 months and
free him. That judge had called the 10-year sentence a "grave
miscarriage of justice."


Wilson said he plans to return to school and sports and possibly
study sociology. For now, he was looking forward to spending time
with relatives.


"I feel I've been away from them long enough," he said. "At
times, we've dealt with adversity. Now my family, we finally get to
deal with happiness."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.