Apparently Georgia wants to be Texas when it grows up. The sequence of events in the Genarlow Wilson travesty gets more nonsensical by the day.
- A Douglas County Superior Court judge throws out Wilson’s sentence and orders him released.
- The State AG, falsely claiming that he has no choice, holds up the release and files an appeal.
- In a transparent bid to lower the level of anger that is aimed at him for this action, he asks for the hearing process to be expedited so it can be held at the earliest possible date. That request is denied.
- A different Douglas County Superior Court judge then cancels the bond hearing altogether because, he says, Georgia law doesn’t allow child molesters out on bail.
Dr. Francys Johnson, the NAACP’s Southeast Regional Director, put it in a nutshell: “The NAACP is convinced that justice has taken a summer vacation in Georgia.”
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 [sic].”
The earliest date the case could come before the court is October. And it could take until April of next year to be decided.
So Wilson will pay for Georgia’s mistake with another year in jail for a charge that should never have been leveled to begin with for an offense that the Georgia legislature itself reduced to a misdemeanor a year after Genarlow was sentenced to a decade in prison. And all of this is because suddenly the entire Georgia justice system – such as it is – just has to follow the letter of the law to the last crossed T. If you think this smells like racism or classism or both, you’re not alone.
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 [would] probably get the same treatment.
“I doubt that one of the affluent Caucasians of Douglas County would get that kind of treatment,” said Lowery.
You’d have to give me mighty heavy odds before I’d even consider betting against the Rev.
Though I do think his emphasis on classism may be misplaced. He’s apparently basing his judgment on the fact that Thurlow Baker is black, but the assumption that a black prosecutor in Georgia can’t be acting from or in response to racist expectations and demands is naive. He’s a politician and he’s in the justice system in a state with the third-fastest growth of prison inmates in the country, a state where the general black population is around 10% but the prison population is 34% black, a state which has some of the toughest sentencing laws and meanest parole boards in the nation. Is that all a co-incidence?
Of course Baker – like any other Georgia politician, white or black – knows which side of the bread his butter is on. Of course he could be placating that portion of the electorate that wants to see black men behind bars and whites treated with leniency for the same crimes. That there isn’t such a sector isn’t credibly deniable, and neither is the conjecture that a blsck AG might take that important sector of the electorate into account when he makes decisions about who to prosecute and how heavily to go after them.
Now, whether Judge Emerson is correct that the law he’s citing gives him no wiggle-room, I can’t say. I haven’t read the law he refers to. But if Georgia conservatives did indeed write a law that allows for no exceptions whatever to the sentencing that must be handed down to sex offenders – or any other class of felon – that law needs to be, at the very least, amended because it leads – as we can see so clearly in this case – to travesty piled upon travesty.