What do you suppose these two stories have in common?
DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. – The Rev. Al Sharpton embraced the mother and sister of a man serving a 10-year sentence for consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old, joining hundreds of supporters Thursday demanding his immediate release from prison.
Genarlow Wilson has been in prison two years for taking part in the sex act when he was 17.
"This boy is not only her son, he’s your son, he’s my son, " Sharpton told the cheering crowd from the steps of the Douglas County Courthouse.
State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan called Wilson’s punishment excessive and said it should be reduced, like the prison sentence for former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, commuted Monday by President Bush.
"Genarlow is the face of many other young black men who have received injustice, " Morgan said. Somebody’s got to stand up for them."
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 videotaped receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl. The law has
since been changed, but the state’s top court said the new law couldn’t be applied retroactively.
Monroe County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wilson ruled June 11 that Genarlow Wilson should be freed and not listed on Georgia’s sex offender registry. The judge called the 10-year mandatory sentence "a grave miscarriage of justice" that violated the Constitution.
Attorney General Thurbert Baker appealed the ruling.
The state Supreme Court will hear the latest appeal in October.
¬© Copyright 2002-2007, St. Petersburg Times
Teen’s controversial conviction stands
By Howard Witt
Tribune senior correspondent
Published July 6, 2007
HOUSTON — A Texas appellate court on Thursday let stand the conviction of Shaquanda Cotton, the black teenager from the small east Texas town of Paris whose sentence of up to seven years in youth prison for pushing a hall monitor at her high school provoked national criticism and fueled allegations of racial discrimination in the town’s schools and courts.
The Sixth Appellate District Court in Texarkana denied the 16-year-old’s appeal of her March, 2006, conviction for assault on a public servant and turned aside her claim that she received ineffective assistance from her defense lawyer at her trial in juvenile court before Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville.
The appeals court decision has no immediate impact on the teenager, who was ordered released in late March by a special conservator in charge of the state’s juvenile justice agency after she had served one year of her sentence. Her case rose to national prominence after it was featured in a March 12 Tribune story, which noted that, just three months before Superville sentenced Cotton, who was 14 at the time of the shoving incident, to prison, he sentenced a 14-year-old white girl convicted of the more serious crime of arson to probation.
Nevertheless, the appeals court pointedly declined to issue an opinion on the racial dimensions of the case or the proportionality of Cotton’s prison sentence—issues that were central to the civil rights activists who took up the teenager’s cause.
Thursday’s verdict dismayed Cotton and her mother, Creola, who had hoped the appeals court would clear the teenager’s name.
"It’s not right, it’s not fair that Shaquanda has to go around with this felony conviction," Creola Cotton said. "I am just sick over this, I really am."
Cotton, who had a history of school disciplinary write-ups and suspensions in the Paris public schools, was tried for shoving the hall monitor during an early-morning altercation in September, 2005, after the hall monitor had denied her request to enter the school before classes were scheduled to begin. The victim, a 58-year-old teacher’s aide, complained of pain in her arm after the incident although medical records showed that doctors who treated her at a local emergency room could find no evidence of an injury.
But Cotton’s defenders alleged that she had been unfairly targeted by school officials because her mother was an outspoken critic of what she asserted were racist disciplinary practices inside the Paris Independent School District. Since last year, the district has been the subject of an ongoing civil rights investigation by the U.S. Department of Education, which is probing whether black students, who make up 40 percent of the district’s 4,000 students, are routinely punished more harshly than whites for similar infractions.
Among the disciplinary write-ups Cotton received, for example, were citations for pouring too much paint into a cup during an art class and wearing a skirt that was one inch too short.
Cotton’s defenders also noted that she suffered from attention-deficit disorder, which they said made it difficult for the teenager to control her impulsive behavior.
Cotton’s appeal attorney, Gary Waite, argued that, among other failures, the teenager’s trial attorney had neglected to obtain her school and medical records beforehand, which would have allowed him to present a defense based on her learning disabilities.
But the appeals court found that, even if the trial attorney, Wesley Newell, had introduced such evidence, Cotton’s disabilities were not so severe that they would have reduced her culpability for her actions.
"No evidence suggests a defect that would provide a direct defense to a charge of assault," the appeals court ruled.