A young man sentenced to 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's case led to widespread protests of heavy handed justice. His supporters said race was one reason he received such a severe sentence, noting that he and the girl — both black — were only two years apart.
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 his mother, Juannessa Bennett.
Wilson, 21, offered advice to other teens: "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 later 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."
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."
Wilson was convicted of aggravated child molestation following a 2003 New Year's Eve party in a hotel room where he was videotaped having oral sex with a 15-year-old girl.
Wilson, who was 17 at the time, was acquitted of raping another 17-year-old girl at the party.