Was Genarlow Wilson Guilty After All?


Genarlow Wilson’s story is pretty well-known by now: the popular 17-year-old honors student and football standout went to a New Year’s Eve party in a hotel, where he received oral sex from a 15-year-old schoolmate, a videotape surfaced, and Wilson was charged with aggravated child molestation, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Wilson became the poster boy for prosecutorial overreach. Georgia’s criminal justice system (and prosecutor David McDade) in particular was vilified. ESPN did a long write-up on his conviction, calling it a “crime.” Mark Cuban called it a gross injustice. After all the media attention and activists rallying on his behalf, Wilson’s conviction was overturned. Wilson was released from prison. Earlier this month he was awarded a full scholarship to Morehouse by Tom Joyner. Justice was served.

But the popular Wilson narrative — the good kid unjustly imprisoned for getting a blowjob — overlooks a not-insubstantial fact: that same night in the hotel room, Wilson and his boys were also taped running a train on an intoxicated and barely conscious 17-year-old girl.

It’s not as if that part of the story went unreported, but with swell of indignation, it seemed not to matter. ABC’s Primetime, which acquired a copy of the videotape of that night, gave the alleged rape of the 17-year-old prominent play in its story. The 17-year-old, who was visibly drunk, was seen lying on the bathroom floor on the tape, before Wilson is shown having sex with her (the tape later shows her being pulled off the bed). It was her allegations of rape the next morning that prompted the police to case the hotel room the next day, where they found booze, condoms, and the camera with the footage.

The jury forewoman said in the ABC story that the jurors decided pretty quickly to acquit Wilson of the rape charge. “We immediately saw the tape for what it was. We went back and saw it again and saw what actually happened and everybody immediately said not guilty,” she said. (She doesn’t explain why they chose to disregard the 17-year-old’s lack of consent.) The aggravated molestation charge was another thing entirely.
To recap: Of the two girls in the room at the Days’ Inn, one wasn’t old enough to give consent, and the other was too intoxicated to do so.

Attorney William Atkins took issue with her being named 2007 Newsmaker of the Year by The Daily Report, a publication for lawyers, on the grounds that their award continued the trend of coverage of the case that sided to readily with the defense’s version of events.

The videotape, portions of which I have seen, was “Exhibit A” because it depicts a horrific crime: a gang rape of a semi-conscious, 17-year-old girl, followed by a bizarre display of sexual precociousness by a 15-year-old girl. That’s the truth recorded by Genarlow and his friends that fateful night. I suspect that is also why [Wilson’s defense attorney B.J. Bernstein] hated it whenever McDade used it to rebut her version of Genarlow’s crime.

No matter how much (two glasses of Cognac) the 17-year-old may have had to drink, no matter how much she may have flirted with those boys, she did not consent to having sex with all of them, one right after the other. Yet it never occurred to the “smart” and “spiritual”Genarlow to say, “Stop it. We should not be doing this.” No. Genarlow watched, waited and gladly took his turn. When they were through raping her, Genarlow helped his friends drag the comatose victim to the bathroom. They opened the door, pushed her in, watched as she fell to the floor and closed the door. I guess she wasn’t much fun anymore. The second victim, just 15 and apparently a bit shy about going all the way, lined the boys up for back-to-back oral sex sessions. It never occurred to the “smart” and “spiritual”Genarlow to say, “Fellas, this is wrong. She’s pretty young, we’re videotaping, this needs to stop right now.” Nope. Genarlow watched, waited and gladly took his turn. Is it possible that she offered oral sex to those boys because she was afraid of suffering the same fate as her 17-year-old friend?

Genarlow was not a young man who got caught having oral sex with his slightly younger girlfriend; Genarlow and his friends took advantage of two young women in an environment that reeked of male dominance and exploitation. The jury knew that, that is why it deadlocked for a day and half before reaching a verdict.

The 17-year-old’s charges didn’t rate — for reasons unexplained — and her story was obliterated because it was inconvenient to the popular narrative. Viewed through even through the least damning prism, Wilson is many things.

A hero isn’t one of them.

(Major, major hat-tip to What About Our Daughters?)



Gene "G.D." Demby is the founder and editor of PostBourgie. In his day job, he blogs and reports on race and ethnicity for NPR's Code Switch team.
  • quadmoniker

    I wish we could see the tape, or know why the jury acquitted wilson on the charge of raping the 17-year-old.

    There are some on one extreme side of an argument who would say an adult woman who got drunk, had sex and later regretted it was raped, when that’s really quite debateable. At the all-women’s college I attended, I met some very extreme feminists who called heterosexual sex inherently violating, since women are penetrated. I think this does an obvious disserve to men and women by portraying women as victims without any agency in their own lives, and men as violent predators.

    But, as a Southerner, I know there is another extreme to the argument; and that’s that women who get that drunk get what’s coming to them. That argument is never stated in so many words, but it is in the coded language of religious and social conservatives who blame victims and set the standards so high for rape that they excuse real, predatory behavior.

    If they had said “She shouldn’t have worn such a skanky top,” or some such nonsense, the uproar would have been mighty. This sounds much more egregious. Where is the uproar?

    I wish we could see the tape.

  • slb

    … I feel awfully slow, but all this time, I’ve been confusing this Genarlow Wilson thing with the Marcus Dixon case. The girls in the Wilson case were African-American, no?

    The Dixon case was the one where the dude was on Oprah and was convicted of statutory rape when his white girlfriend accused him (because her father was racist).

    My mind, she is blown.

  • Steve

    No the girls in the Wilson case were white…

  • Steve:

    The 15-year-old girl in the case was black. I don’t know about the 17-year-old.

  • Steve

    A few other things:
    1. Rape law varies state to state but also consent is only one element of it.
    2. The video cannot purport to be the entire evidence of whether or not there was consent.
    3. Did the girls testify? What other evidence was shown for or against consent? These are things we’d need to know.
    4. If a jury acquits a jury acquits… there are millions of cases where we might feel someone is guilty but the jury acquits and we have to honor it.
    4.The real issue in the Wilson case was not his GUILT but the fact that he was sentenced based on an outdated and unfair statutory code… enforced possibly because of racial motivation. 5. I don’t think Wilson would ever purport to be a hero, and I think the media has shown that he wasn’t an angel. However, the larger issue was a severely unjust sentence…
    Basically, the man was acquitted of rape… but punished entirely too severely for a minor violation and spent more time in jail than most first-time rapists regardless.

  • Steve

    Yea..I know atleast SOME of them were white..I remember reading the articles…I’m not 100% though.. and I know some were linked to politically important local people either by family or otherwise.

  • Steve:

    ‘racial motivation’? I don’t know if I can ride with that in this case. The statutory rape sentence was excessive — at the time, Georgia law would have allowed Wilson to be charged with a misdemeanor had he actually had intercourse with her instead of receiving oral sex from her — and it was right that they tightened up that inconsistency later.

    But I’m not sure how his sentence was racially motivated.

  • Steve

    G, I’m rusty on the facts… but really why else would the DA have wanted the maximum sentence on such a minor violation? I know that alot of the articles/exposes focus on the DA as well… and how he was determined to make an example out of Wilson and disregard the unfairness of the sentence. All of that can be construed as having racial undertones especially in a small Georgia town.

  • Lee

    This case always made me uneasy. I want more details of what happened concerning the 17 year old. There are holes in our information as per what Steve mentioned above. Did she testify? I also want to know if she was black. My feeling is that black women exist at the worst possible intersection of gender and race. I really hope that whatever happened to those girls what not brushed under the rug for the sake of preventing what was perceived as an excessive racially motivated sentencing. There certainly is systematic racism in the judicial system. I’m not arguing that. But I find myself feeling the way I did when I read some people’s reaction to the Anita Hill/ Clarence Thomas case. There were sentiments expressed by some black people that she shouldn’t have given one of “us” up to “them”, no matter what his transgressions were. I hate the idea of having to choose between my rights as female and my rights as black. I hope that this *isn’t* what happened but if it was, sadly I can’t say I’d be too surprised. So far as I can see, being black and female is the bottom rung in every socioeconomic/racial/political discourse.

  • Aisha

    I cosign Lee. It also bothers me how there is public outcry when black folks are wronged by the legal system. We had an outcry about Justin and Janet. I’m trying to figure out when black folks are going to lend their voices to more everyday causes. We can go to Jena but we can’t go to the local school board meeting.

  • wow

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