ATLANTA – A state lawmaker on Tuesday asked the Georgia attorney general to investigate a prosecutor's release of an amateur video showing a man who has spent years in prison for child molestation having consensual sex with two teenage girls.
Some say the tape is child pornography, while others contend the faces of the girls should have been blocked out to protect their privacy.
State Sen. Emanuel Jones, a Democrat, called it "an absolute and utter disgrace" that the tape was being distributed and asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to investigate.
Jones' request had been received, a spokesman for Baker said, declining to comment further.
Douglas County District Attorney David McDade contends that under the state's open records law he had no choice but to release the tape, because it was used as evidence in the trial against Genarlow Wilson, who was 17 when it was made. He provided a July 5 letter from the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia backing up his claim.
"The law is very clear," McDade said Tuesday.
McDade said his office gave copies of the tape to some 35 parties that requested it, including The Associated Press, which received the tape late last month after making an open records request. Seven state lawmakers, several members of the public and numerous members of the media also received the tape.
Jones said he never asked for or received the video.
The video shows a 2003 New Year's Eve Party at a hotel room. On it, Wilson can be seen receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl and having intercourse with a 17-year-old girl.
The tape helped put Wilson behind bars, where he is serving a mandatory 10-year sentence on a charge of aggravated child molestation. Although the oral sex with the 15-year-old was consensual, it was a felony under Georgia law at the time. The law has since been changed. Wilson was acquitted of raping the 17-year-old.
Portions of the videotape, made by another male partygoer, have been played on television news shows. And it surfaced at the state Capitol during the legislative session this year as the lawmakers considered a bill that would have helped Wilson.
State Senate President pro tem Eric Johnson was one of the lawmakers who viewed the tape and emerged as a staunch opponent of Wilson's release after doing so.
"It kind of makes your skin crawl," Johnson said. "Watching it changed my mind."
Karen Baynes, a former juvenile court judge who oversees the child and family policy initiative at the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, said the distribution could "re-victimize" the girls depicted in the tape all over again.
"It concerns me greatly, both for the precedent it sets and for the girls involved," Baynes said.
Although the law may permit McDade to release the tape, it is still a crime in some cases to possess it, said Karen Worthington, interim director of Emory University's Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory Law School.
"I think the law is clear that it is a violation of the Georgia statute," Worthington said.
Georgia law makes it a crime to possess or distribute child pornography unless there is a legitimate medical, scientific or educational purpose.
Whether news reporters or average citizens fall under that protective shield is unclear, Worthington said.
Georgia's top court is set to hear an appeal in the Wilson case July 20. A Monroe County judge last month called Wilson's sentence "a grave miscarriage of justice" and ordered him released. Baker appealed, arguing the decision could free some 1,300 child molesters in Georgia prisons.
The Georgia Supreme Court rejected an earlier appeal from Wilson, saying that although the law Wilson was convicted under had been changed, it could not be applied retroactively.