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The Case of Genarlow Wilson
Aired February 17, 2007 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Opinion over fact?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a rape in my mind.
SANCHEZ: But the jury didn't make it a rape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you know, they couldn't make it a rape with being consensual. If it was your daughter, you'd call it rape.
SANCHEZ: If it was my daughter, she wouldn't have been there, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: I go toe to toe with a state lawmaker. He wants a young man to sit in prison, all because of teen sex. The contradictions and the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you not imagine the hell you are playing for your children. You coveted everything I worked for. And yet, you (INAUDIBLE). You expected a perfection from me that you could never have lived up to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: A wife lets her husband have it in court. After all, he did try to kill her.
Can you tell who this is from the back? She's sporting a new do and she did it herself. All this from the CNN NEWSROOM.
And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez. Tonight, your senators are going home, in fact many of them as we speak, after voting today on the single most pressing issue facing our country, sending American troops to war.
But you know what? They voted to not vote. Stay with me. I'm going to be talking to both sides on this.
But first, Genarlow Wilson, spending a decade behind bars. His crime - receiving oral sex when he was 17 years old from another teen. He's now 20.
When CNN first told its story, it outraged so many of you, we just had to follow up. So we did. To the Georgia legislature we go who again tried to tackle the case just this week. Tonight, still it's not resolved.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There will be order in the chamber at this time.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Order is one thing. The truth in the case of Genarlow Wilson may be more difficult to attain. First, let's take you back. Genarlow Wilson was an honor student, high school homecoming king, a track and football star who seemed to have it all.
GENARLOW WILSON, CONVICTED SEX OFFENDER: I was somewhat popular, you know, maybe too much in the spotlight, you know, for my own good.
SANCHEZ: Imagine now going from that to this, living behind bars for a minimum of 10 years for something he did that some may consider immoral, maybe stupid, maybe even criminal. But 10 years in prison?
"The New York Times" in an editorial is calling for his release. Websites are dedicated to freeing him. Even conservative talk show host Neal Boortz has take on Genarlow's cause.
NEAL BOORTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The kid broke a ridiculous law, passed by the general assembly, that did not, can we use the phrase, grade on a curve.
SANCHEZ: You've lost your freedom. What's that like to lose your freedom?
WILSON: It's real hard because I started out, it was like I had everything one day. And the next day I didn't have nothing.
SANCHEZ (on camera): Where and when did this all begin? Right here at this Days Inn in suburban Atlanta, December 31, 2003. Genarlow and some of his friends decided they would come here, rent a room, and ring in the new year. It was a decision that has forever changed his life.
(voice-over): Here's why. During the night, several girls showed up. One of the boys whips out a video camera to record the party. CNN blurs out the faces of other teens there.
Later in the video, the teens are seen having sex right in the open. In one scene, Genarlow Wilson receives oral sex from one of the girls. He's 17, she's 15. It appears to be a consensual act between two teens.
At no time did you tell that young lady that she had to give you oral sex?
WILSON: No, sir. SANCHEZ: Eddie Barker, who prosecuted Genarlow Wilson, shows us the tape.
He says he never used force, that he didn't force the girl at all. Is he telling truth?
EDDIE BARKER, PROSECUTOR: From what we've seen on the videotape and heard from the victim ourselves, we do not believe there was any physical force used.
SANCHEZ: But it doesn't matter that it was seemingly consensual, nor does it matter that he himself was a teenager. On conviction, 10 years, mandatory, no way around.
The law that ensnared Genarlow is so illogical, that if he'd intercourse with the 15-year old, instead of oral sex, his punishment would only have been a misdemeanor.
If you had known that it was illegal for a 17-year-old to have sex with a 15-year-old, would you have done it?
SANCHEZ: Back to the Georgia legislature, which recently changed the law, but didn't change Genarlow Wilson's punishment. Why not? State Senator Eric Johnson took the floor.
ERIC JOHNSON, GEORGIA SENATE: Mr. Wilson participated in multiple sexual acts with a minor while she was unconscious.
SANCHEZ: Turns out, that's not true. The videotape shows the 15-year-old was not unconscious.
JOHNSON: Two minor girls went to this room with five men prepared to have consensual, oral sex. Once they got there, they were fed alcohol and drugs, and were then unconscious through the rest of it.
SANCHEZ: Wrong. The court record shows the 15-year-old says she never had anything to drink. And the other female was drinking before she arrived.
Are you aware that these boys videotaped that rape?
SANCHEZ: Wrong again. Even though Wilson was found technically guilty under Georgia's defunct sexual assault statute, he was not found guilty of rape. And jurors told us what they saw on tape was in no way a rape.
MARIE MANIGAULT, JURY FOREMAN: When we viewed the tape, there was absolutely nothing in there that showed us that he in any way encouraged this person, even invited the person to come.
SANCHEZ: So for now, the Georgia legislature has done nothing, leaving Genarlow Wilson behind these walls, hoping someday for justice. It's an amazing story. You heard Georgia State Senator Eric Johnson and what he had to say. We were surprised by his comments like probably you were. He did it right there on the Senate floor.
So we called him. He agreed to meet us in the shadow of Georgia's capitol dome. And even though it was cold outside, things got pretty heated. We're going to show you this whole exchange in just a little bit.
And now we want to hear from you on this as well. We're going to be talking a lot more. But already, we want to invite you. So put yourself in the judge's seat.
First of all, do you think that teen sex should be criminalized? And how would you sentence Genarlow Wilson? Give us a call at 1-800- 807-2620. That's 1-800-807-2620. We're going to air a lot of your responses right here on the air so other people can hear them.
As I told you just a little while ago, tonight the U.S. Senate has held a debate, not on the war in Iraq really, but whether they should debate the war in Iraq.
To no one's surprise, the measure did not pass. How is it possible that the most important issue facing Americans today can't even be properly addressed by the U.S. Senate? We put the heat on both sides tonight -- Republican Richard Shelby of Alabama and Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D), MARYLAND: You have now the majority of the House of Representatives and the majority of the United States Senate, including both Democrats and Republicans, saying to this administration that we want a changed policy in Iraq. And we don't want to see additional U.S. troops sent to Iraq.
SANCHEZ: But hold on a minute. You lost the vote, unless I'm seeing something that you saw that I didn't see, you essentially lost the vote you wanted to get approved, didn't you?
CARDIN: Fifty-six senators are on record saying, basically, that additional troops in Iraq at this point is not what we should be doing.
SANCHEZ: Can you are this argument while troops are there, boots on the ground, fighting?
CARDIN: We need -- for what our troops are doing, the sacrifices they are making, we've got to get it right. We're going to give our troops everything they need.
SANCHEZ: Final question...
CARDIN: We're going to use everything we can to change the policies in Iraq so that we can have a successful...
SANCHEZ: Senator, final question. Should you be compromising, or questioning, or critiquing a president during a time of war?
CARDIN: We have a responsibility to make sure we get it right. Congress must do what it believes is in the best interest of the United States.
SANCHEZ: So that's a yes? That's a yes?
CARDIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.
SANCHEZ: Right. Senator Cardin, we thank you, sir, for taking time to talk to us today.
CARDIN: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: We appreciate it.
SANCHEZ: Well, what do Senate Republicans have to say?
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: Nobody is happy with Iraq. I know the president's not, the troops aren't, we're not.
SANCHEZ: Let me stop you for a minute. Why would you want to debate the debate? Why don't you just start the debate? Who's -- hands up, up and down, who wants to put more troops in Iraq, who doesn't want to put more troops in Iraq? Why don't you just do that?
SHELBY: Well, that would be fair, too. We have debated enough if we could just get it up to where we could vote on all these issues, that would be fine with me.
SANCHEZ: Why can't you vote on these issues?
SHELBY: Because the Democrats don't want us to bring up the Gregg resolution and the McCain resolution. They want us bring up their resolution, which is nonbinding. And we're not going to do this. This is a slap in the troops' face. And today was a good vote for the troops.
SANCHEZ: Why would this be a slap in the troops' face?
SHELBY: Because it's a nonbinding resolution saying basically on ambiguous resolution saying we're going to support the troops, but we want you to come home. That's an ambiguous message. We should not do this.
SANCHEZ: We thank both gentlemen for being with us on this night.
But while these politicians talk tonight, it was violence again in Iraq. This was the scene in Kirkuk. This is northern Iraq. Two car bombs go off, almost back-to-back in a crowded market. At least seven people are dead. More than 80 others are wounded.
Condoleezza Rice in Baghdad. And guess what? Yes, it was unannounced. Secretary of State told Iraqi leaders the Capitol Hill debate reflects American worries about Iraq's commitment to democracy. But she also praised the new security crackdown now under way in Baghdad.
And it looks like the British soldier known as troop leader Wales is heading to Iraq. You recognize the face? Military sources telling CNN tonight that Prince Harry could be deployed as soon as this spring. Harry was commissioned last year from the Sand Hearst Military Academy. No comment, by the way, yet from the royal family.
Oops, she did it again. And she meant to do it. Matter of fact, she did it herself. Britney Spears goes bald. You've got to see the picks.
A young Georgia man sits behind bars and all because he had teen sex. Even his jurors say the punishment doesn't fit the crime. Now we confront a state lawmaker.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was a threat to no one about himself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: What's it like to go through life branded as a sexual offender? And how big a toll can it take? One man's moving story when we come back from the CNN NEWSROOM.
By the way, it's now your turn to choose the news. Is there a particular story that you want to hear more about? We'll play it for you. E-mail us the weekends@CNN.com. Or send us your own video or webcam suggestions at CNN.com/exchange. And we're going to get you the answer. We'll have it, we promise, right here within the hour.
SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back as we roll along here. This is the Epic Center, where we get videos from all over the world. We've got a couple of videos that we want to show you.
First of all, do you remember this? This is a story that we brought you from Africa, Nigeria. These are militiamen who have taken these oil workers or all Filipinos hostage. Well, we've got some new pictures to show you now. Better story here.
Take a look at this. 24 of those are no longer in captivity. They have been released. And look at the big smiles. They're all arriving in Manila, the Philippines just over the last 24 hours.
We've got another story we want to show you. This is in Machenza (ph), Italy. This is where there's a U.S. military installation. This is where the 173rd Airborne Brigade is. And there's a huge demonstration. There are protests. 30,000 people taking to the streets. They want to make sure that the U.S. military installation isn't expanded. And that's the point that they're trying to make.
From there, let's take you now to Bismarck, North Dakota. Been there. I remember going to school in the area. Take a look at this picture. Have you been able to figure what that is? Those are snow angels. They're setting the record for the biggest collection of snow angels all in one place.
They used to have the record there in Bismarck. They were beaten by the folks in Michigan. And now, they're trying to get it back. You want to know how many people are there? As if we could count them. Hold, I got the number here. 8,910 people. This may be a record. Guinness will confirm it, one way or another.
Britney Spears in the news again. This time, what some are calling a very ugly episode. We'll be back from the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.
SANCHEZ: Welcome back. We're in the control room now, thanks to some of the folks in here who decided to provide you with a little bit of music. Appropriate, you might know.
Why? Because well, tonight, there's a lot of buzz about the bizarre actions of one Britney Spears. And if you remember her like this, get ready for a shock, folks. The singer used to be on the top of the charts and on the top of the world.
But recently, she's more known for her partying than her music. Some would say for bizarre behavior. Tonight, Spears is no longer sporting her blonde locks or any locks, for that matter. Her new look has a lot of people scratching their heads. Here's CNN's Peter Viles.
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As you might say back in her hometown in Louisiana, that Britney sure has changed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Britney.
VILES: She walked into an L.A. hair salon on Friday and asked to have her head shaved.
ESTHER TOGNOZZI, ESTHERS HAIRCUTTING STUDIO: And I said, well, I'm not shaving your hair off. And I tried to talk her out of it. I said are you sure you're not having a bad day? And tomorrow you'll feel differently about it. Why don't we wait a little bit.
She said, no I absolutely want it shaved off now. Next thing I know, she grabbed the buzzer. And she went to the back of my salon and she was shaving off her own hair. And she actually enjoyed shaving off her own hair.
VILES: Next stop was a tattoo parlor, where she pulled her low rise jeans a little lower and also explained the hairstyle, sort of. EMILY WINN HUGHES, TATTOO SHOP WITNESS: She basically just said that she was tired of having things plugged into it. And didn't want anybody to touch her, tired of people touching her, that sort of thing. It seemed like she was kind of sick of it all, whatever it all is.
VILES: "People" magazine reports that Spears checked herself into a rehab facility this week, but checked out a day later. A spokesman for Spears has not answered CNN's requests for comment. The 25-year-old has two young children and filed for divorce last November. Lately, she's been turning weird behavior into an art form.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She hosted New Year's eve at Pure nightclub. And you know, there were reports that she collapsed. So she sort of started out on that note and it's really just continued. She's been out almost every night. A lot of the partying for somebody with two small children.
TOGNOZZI: The only emotion she showed was when she said my mom's going to be really upset. And she got teary eyed. And I think her mom should maybe get a hold of her little girl. I think she needs her family.
VILES: Spears hasn't had a hit record in three years, but she doesn't necessarily need the money. Forbes has estimated her net worth at $100 million.
Peter Viles for CNN, Los Angeles.
SANCHEZ: And there's this story that we've been following, so has everyone else. Anna Nicole Smith is one step closer to being buried now. But where? Her body was embalmed today in Florida.
Smith's partner, Howard K. Stern says that she wanted to be buried next to her son in the Bahamas. He wants custody, by the way. So does Smith's mother, who says Smith should be buried in Texas instead. A judge has ordered Stern to appear at a hearing Tuesday to take up the burial battle.
Yep, it's a party. As you're watching us right now, New Orleans is having a party. Not just any party. Mardi Gras is happening right there and now. And in a place that Katrina left behind.
And then, of course, this story. Teens, sex, partying. It's a combination. Put one young man away for 10 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: The fact of matter is, though, we have a 17-year-old with a 15-year-old. And you stand yesterday in front of the Senate and you say it was a rape?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It wasn't a rape. What they did to a semi conscious girl, I would classify as a rape. Even if the prosecutor wouldn't. As an individual, I would.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Is that is fair? We're going to put lawmakers to the test, that particular lawmaker.
By the way, don't forget to call us now. We want to hear from you about this case. Put yourself in the judge's seat. We want to know what you think. How would you sentence Genarlow Wilson in this case?
Give us a call. It's 1-800-807-2620. 1-800-807-2620. We will air what you say. We'll be back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How could you not imagine the hell you were planning for your children?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: News from across America, emotional testimony. Her husband wanted her killed and was willing to pay $10,000 to make it happen. Only an undercover officer wasn't buying. This week in a Texas courtroom, the would-be victim, Shelly Ferrill, lived to tell off her husband.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHELLY FERRILL: What need, what desire, was -- could possibly put Kaitlin and Garrett's need for a mother?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Tonight, no trial for John Sheroke, who pleaded guilty in solicitation of capital murder and now faces 12 years in prison.
In southeastern Pennsylvania, aftermath of a deadly house fire. Neighbors say the flames took over so fast, only a few people were able to make it out safely. 6 children and a 26-year-old woman are dead. The cause is still under investigation.
Authorities tell the AP that space heaters were found throughout the home, because the gas furnace wasn't working. Temperatures had dropped to from a low of zero.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It helps to ensure that sex can be safer sex.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Tonight, the controversy continues in New York. Condom condemnation. The city that never sleeps began handing out millions of free condoms on Valentine's Day in a new initiative to fight HIV and AIDS. Catholic leaders say they are outraged by this. They say the city's message needs to be abstinence.
Tonight, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is firing back. He says it's about health and not faith.
Faith of a different nature playing out in the streets of New Orleans at this hour. Mardi Gras 2007 looking a lot like the celebrations before Hurricane Katrina.
But just blocks from the partying and the parades, lives and homes, really do remain ruined. Why, then, does the big easy stop everything for its big Fat Tuesday celebration?
CNN's Susan Roesgen filed this report just moments ago on St. Charles Avenue.
SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORREPONDENT: This is last big weekend of parades before Fat Tuesday. And families and friends have gathered here on St. Charles Avenue to get the very best view.
(voice-over): It is the second carnival season since Hurricane Katrina. And for many people, it's a break from the frustrations of the terribly slow recovery.
But it's also a big moneymaker for the city. In a good year, Mardi Gras pumps in $1 billion to the local economy. And that's money the city could really use right now.
So happy Mardi Gras. I'm Susan Roesgen, CNN, New Orleans.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Do you feel bad about the fact that you characterize this as a rape when you were talking yesterday in the Senate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SANCHEZ: You don't have any problem with that? Because it wasn't a rape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a rape in my mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: But the jury didn't make it a rape. That is his story and he seems to be sticking to it. But here's what this Georgia state senator told me, in fact, after the fact. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I should not be afraid. I should not be afraid.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: Well, we tried to get to the bottom of this apparent double talk. That's coming up, right after the break.
And then later, Branded for life, driven to death, living and dying under a label, a brand - sex offender.
SANCHEZ: We welcome you back once again. I'm Rick Sanchez.
We've gotten such a response from this story since we first starred airing it, Genarlow's story. We felt compelled really to follow up on it.
We first told you about Genarlow Wilson a few weeks ago, convicted of aggravated child molestation and sentenced to 10 years in prison for engaging in apparently consensual oral sex with a 15-year- old girl. He was 17-years old at the time.
We were surprised to see how little Georgia state lawmakers seem to know about this case, even though they were debating it just this week. State Senator Eric Johnson, for example, seems most adamant about making sure that Genarlow remains behind bars. So I went to talk to him. And neither of us held back.
ERIC JOHNSON, GEORGIA SENATOR: For the legislature to get involved now is probably the wrong action. I can't imagine that any politically incorrect sentence that's delivered out there, that somebody comes crying -- hires a publicist, comes crying to the legislature and tries to overturn the actions of a jury.
SANCHEZ: Do you feel bad about the fact that you characterized this as a rape?
SANCHEZ: When you were talking yesterday in the Senate?
SANCHEZ: No? You don't have any problem with that? Because it wasn't a rape.
JOHNSON: It's a rape in my mind.
SANCHEZ: But the jury didn't make it a rape.
JOHNSON: Well, you know, they couldn't make it a rape with being consensual. If it was your daughter, you'd call it rape.
SANCHEZ: If it was my daughter, she wouldn't have been there, sir. I can guarantee you that.
JOHNSON: Well, there you go. But if she was...
SANCHEZ: The fact of the matter is, though, we have a 17-year- old with a 15-year-old. You stand yesterday in front of the Senate you say it was a rape. It wasn't a rape.
JOHNSON: It -- what they did to a semi conscious girl, I would classify as a rape.
JOHNSON: Even if the prosecutor wouldn't. As an individual, I would.
SANCHEZ: But the jury didn't find that.
SANCHEZ: You're saying you don't want the legislature to...
JOHNSON: I'm not trying to second...
SANCHEZ: That's exactly what you're doing, sir.
JOHNSON: No, I'm not.
SANCHEZ: You're saying you don't want the legislature to come in and do the job of the court, but you're telling me that your decision supersedes what the jury decided.
SANCHEZ: The jury said it's not a rape, but you're saying it's a rape.
JOHNSON: I would -- I called it a rape.
SANCHEZ: But it's not a rape, sir.
JOHNSON: It is in my mind. It's my understanding that the jury would have liked to have charged him with rape, but couldn't. But the only tool they had in front of them was aggravated child molestation. So that's the tool they used.
SANCHEZ: Nothing could be further from the truth. I've spoken to the jury foreman. And she said she felt absolutely horrible about having to even hear the case, and that in her eyes, it was never a rape. And that the only reason she found him guilty of that was because of the way the law was written.
She thought, like I think, and I'm sure you think, too, being, you know, just a normal decent guy, it was stupid. It shouldn't have been done. It was horrible judgment. It was highly immoral. 10 years in prison, sir, that's a long time.
JOHNSON: It could have been five.
SANCHEZ: He's a good kid, though. I mean, this is not a kid who's had problems in the past. Never had a record before.
JOHNSON: That's a judgment. And that's based on your assumptions. I mean, I don't know if he's a good kid or a bad kid.
SANCHEZ: Well, have you read up...
JOHNSON: I know he's in jail for 10 years.
SANCHEZ: Yes. Can you go beyond the fact that he's in jail for 10 years, though, and look at the fact that there's other extenuating circumstances?
JOHNSON: I get letters every day in my office from good people in prison that were innocent until they were convicted. I mean, you know, it -- I don't know whether he's good or bad. I know a jury found him guilty of aggravated child molestation.
SANCHEZ: And you're going to draw the hard line on it?
JOHNSON: I am.
SANCHEZ: So as you just saw, I challenged George State Senator Eric Johnson for openly referring to what Genarlow did as rape, even though nobody else has. I even reminded the senator that the jury sided with Genarlow and found him not guilty of rape. Still, he was convinced that he was justified and classifying it as rape throughout our conversation.
Both on the Senate floor, by the way, and then during my conversation with him. But then listen to what he said, I guess you might say, after the damage was done.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSON: I should not be afraid. I should not have used rape, but I do think that sex with a girl that's semi conscious and can't -- is rape.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SANCHEZ: B.J. Bernstein is Genarlow's attorney. And she's good enough to join us. Must be frustrating for you to listen to that?
B.J. BERNSTEIN, ATTORNEY: It's despicable, it's outrageous, and it shows you what's wrong with our legislators, period.
First of all, you have a situation here where this man is substituting himself for a jury, when his own legislature last year voted that this is a misdemeanor. It is not 10 years in prison anymore. It is not sex offender...
SANCHEZ: What you're saying is essentially the Georgia legislature decide that no more will teenagers be convicted for having sex...
SANCHEZ: ...and treated as hardened criminals and sent to prison for 10 years.
SANCHEZ: But Genarlow's case is the one that made them change that law, right?
BERNSTEIN: Exactly. And what's happening now, you're hearing a man listening to the district attorney, who's been showed in the tape by the district attorney, who apparently is friends with the district attorney.
SANCHEZ: Well, to be fair, how do you know that?
BERNSTEIN: Well, because let me say this much. The district attorney is a lobbyist for the district attorney's association, the prosecuting attorney's association, and is there all the time.
SANCHEZ: But you know, people are watching right now, B.J., from home. And they're thinking a good district attorney, a good prosecutor, only wants to see things done fairly.
If this young man really didn't force himself on this young lady, if all it was was teen sex, consensual for the most part, I know that's a legal word, not a term of art, why would a prosecutor, why would a senator be going whole hog to try and see this kid stay in prison?
BERNSTEIN: It's insane. It makes no sense. I mean, and we saw it - you saw it on the floor of the Senate.
SANCHEZ: But there -- is it political?
BERNSTEIN: It's political. I don't know whether there's a component of race or not. You know, you hate to call someone that. And yet, Genarlow is African-American. You know, when they saw the tape and there's rap music going on, does that create a difference? What, you know, they've passed -- they're choosing politics over our children.
SANCHEZ: Here's the bottom line. Teen sex should not be criminalized to this extent. Can we agree on that?
BERNSTEIN: Absolutely. And the legislator, this man voted for that last year. See, that's the hypocrisy. This senator voted last year that it's a misdemeanor.
But now, when he's faced with this case, that he doesn't know the facts about, the lieutenant governor, who his legislative counsel worked for this district attorney last year. I mean, I just -- I'm at a loss.
SANCHEZ: And here's the question I think a lot of people watching at home come -- what comes to their mind is, with all of the bad people we do have in this country, who we need places in jail cells for, why would we be using a jail cell for a young man like this?
BERNSTEIN: Exactly. And again, that's why they changed the law. And why to link him back up. And they're telling me now, oh, 15 served 5 years in prison, but beyond sex offender registry, which means he couldn't go to college.
In fact, one of the co-defendant's, Nirada Williams' father just called me this week. His son's going to college down in Savannah, Georgia and got kicked out of his apartment because he's a sex offender.
SANCHEZ: What do you make of Senator Johnson at the end, turning to me and saying, you know, I probably shouldn't have used the word rape. You know, and Senator Johnson seems like an upright guy to me. He seems like an honest guy. Maybe misinformed, but I thought toward the end that he was -- we were having a very good conversation. What did you think of that comment, though?
BERNSTEIN: Well, I mean, again, it shows he's doing somebody else's bidding. He doesn't know the facts. He's standing up.
This is a law that may affect more than just Genarlow. We should make sure that no one who's ever has been a teen convicted of teen sex, and there have been others, should not be on a registry and not be in prison. And why the legislature's does nothing...
SANCHEZ: Why don't they - I mean, you know, the bible says the truth shall set you free. Genarlow won't be set free until someone in the legislature or somewhere else, maybe the governor of the state of Georgia, knows the truth. Why can't they get it?
BERNSTEIN: I don't know. I mean, I would invite them, you know, Senator Johnson, come with me to go meet Genarlow. But truthfully, you know, at this point, I'm begging the governor. You know, he actually is somebody who really does care about children. And his personal life, how he became governor, he was a person who cared about our kids. And so I guess I'd appeal to him for leadership.
SANCHEZ: Well, what don't you say - if they say to you your client acted in a very immoral way, and was really stupid, and should not have been in that hotel room, and should not have done drugs, and should not have done alcohol?
BERNSTEIN: And he agrees. And you know what I've told them? He would plead guilty to possession of alcohol under age. He'll plead guilty to possession of marijuana. He'll plead guilty contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But he will not say that he is a child molester. He should not be on a registry. SANCHEZ: Let's talk about that for a minute, because that's...
BERNSTEIN: It's Saturday night in the world. It's happening tonight.
SANCHEZ: That seems to be your point of contention. He and you are not willing to be branded a sexual offender, a child molester. Why is that such a big point?
BERNSTEIN: Because under the laws that we have, and most states now, we have these registries, where you can't live within a thousand feet of a school, a pool, a school bus stop. So basically, you can't do volunteer activities with children, you can't be around kids.
SANCHEZ: Your saying his life is going to be ruined beyond prison.
BERNSTEIN: It's ruined. He'd be a convicted felon, another young African-American. I mean, I'm talking...
SANCHEZ: And a 17-year-old having sex with a 15-year-old is not a child molester.
BERNSTEIN: It's not a child molester.
SANCHEZ: You know what's interesting about that? I said out to do a story on that. And I found out, and you're going to want to see this. And then, I want your reaction in just a little bit.
I found out that there was a person living in Ocala, Florida, who in the past had a case very much like what we've just explained to you about Genarlow. Somebody in his town decided that they would take him on, and put a banner saying that he was a sexual offender. You'll be surprised. Your heart will break when you see how this story turns out. Stay with us. We're going to be right back.
SANCHEZ: We do welcome you back. I'm Rick Sanchez, along with B.J. Bernstein, Genarlow's attorney. You were mentioning a little while ago about what it's like to go through life. And you fear your client might have to do that, to be literally branded as a sexual offender, a child molester for the rest of your life.
This really is about sticking up for the little guy. So I looked into a story not long ago. This is a case in Ocala. And this is also the story of a little guy. Somebody who was branded a sexual offender, a child rapist, in one case.
It's a brand, a label, he really didn't deserve. And what happened to him is truly a tragedy. Watch this.
SANCHEZ (voice-over): Ocala, Florida, is about an hour and a half's drive from the place where both girls were found murdered. Crimes that created a mood of fear and caution. People were holding on to their kids just a little tighter. So when they heard a convicted sex offender was living among them, they decided to take matters into their own hands.
RANDY HARRIS, MARION CO. COMMISSIONER: I think a lot of people were sick, just sick and saddened by what they heard. And I think they still are and in shock.
SANCHEZ: County Commissioner Randy Harris is a tough-minded politician, who makes no excuses for his proposal to identify and label all sex offenders with signs and posters.
HARRIS: I believe that the county commission should post signs in neighborhoods and inform the public of where these people actually reside, because they're residing in neighborhoods where people simply don't know.
SANCHEZ (on camera): In this central Florida town that proudly displays its red, white and blue, the people see this issue as black and white, cut and dry.
A sex offender should simply not be allowed to conceal himself. Parents need to be told about him, so that they can protect their children. What happens, though, if there are mitigating circumstances? If one case is different perhaps from others? Maybe, just maybe, it's not so black and white.
CHUCK CLAXTON, CLOVIS CLAXTON'S FATHER: He was a threat to no one but himself. Absolutely no one.
SANCHEZ: Must be pretty painful.
SANCHEZ: Chuck Claxton cries when he thinks of his son. Clovis Claxton was a convicted sex offender, but he was also wheelchair bound and depressed because of his illness. So when he began seeing signs describing him as a threat and sex offender, his father says he used pills and alcohol to take his own life.
CLAXTON: And I'm not interested in shaping our public policy around the exception. The exception is that one of them has committed suicide.
SANCHEZ: Commissioner Harris makes no apologies when it comes to protecting children.
HARRIS: It's my opinion that he was a victim of his own circumstance. I have no doubt that he was guilt ridden over the crime that he committed. I mean he committed a sexual offense against a child, I believe, nine-years old.
SANCHEZ: The record shows that Claxton did expose himself to a young girl, the daughter of a friend in 1991. However, a careful review of that same record, by police, also shows that he was no longer considered a threat. And just to be sure, we asked the local sheriffs what they had found.
CAPT. DENNIS STROW, MARION CO. SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Our risk assessment did not indicate that he was a threat to the neighborhood.
SANCHEZ: Here's why. As a child, Claxton was diagnosed with both meningitis and encephalitis, which left him severely impaired physically and mentally. How old was he when this happened?
CLAXTON: Chronically, he was 20. Mentally, 10, 11, because of some injuries he had to his brain due to encephalitis at the age of 10. It was -- it was nothing more at the time of him and a little girl just playing, you know, show me mine. You know...
SANCHEZ: Claxton has never again been accused of a sex crime. What's more, the girl and her family who accused him have forgiven him. And even visit.
CLAXTON: The girl's parents are still friends of the family.
SANCHEZ (on camera): That speed limit sign that you see right there is approximately a block and a half from Clovis Claxton's home. He literally could not go home on any given night without seeing that sign. It is one of the places where someone hung a poster right underneath the sign. The poster read "child rapist." How unfair was that characterization?
CLAXTON: Totally unfair, because he never raped anybody.
SANCHEZ: Clovis Claxton was found dead in his apartment just days after first posters appeared. He was found, in fact, with one of those posters that accused him of being a child rapist.
Child rapist, that's pretty strong, isn't it?
HARRIS: It is strong. It's very strong.
SANCHEZ: Strong enough to cause one man to take his own life and to possibly teach all of us a lesson about the power of labels and how words really do matter.
SANCHEZ: It's an emotional story, isn't it, to watch that.
BERNSTEIN: It's just heartbreaking because again, you know, we're taking the individual out of it. You know, you think of this country as judging you on your individual actions, and not just throwing you on some list without looking into the facts. And the way we're building these laws, it's just this automatic situation.
SANCHEZ: And that's what you want to make sure doesn't happen to Genarlow.
BERNSTEIN: I don't want it to happen to Genarlow.
SANCHEZ: What you doing this week, before we run out of time, before we let you go?
BERNSTEIN: We're trying to plan, and I want to go back to the Senate and talk to some senators about getting Senate bill 37 on a calendar and heard.
SANCHEZ: At least an exception for him?
BERNSTEIN: Well, beyond him. This law applies to other people as well. Maybe not you know 20, 30, 40, 100 or so people, but it's not a law only for Genarlow.
SANCHEZ: We thank you, B.J., as usual.
BERNSTEIN: Thank you.
SANCHEZ: We'll be talking to you some more. Music, TV, and movies aren't helping, but are you doing enough to keep images of sex away from children? After all, our children often behave the way we give them license to behave. One author wants to show you how. We're going to tackle this. She's coming up. And we'll be right back from the NEWSROOM.
SANCHEZ: Boy, what a night. And we do welcome you back to the CNN NEWSROOM. We're not done yet.
Rebecca Hagelin says don't blame Genarlow for what happened to him. It's adults in this case who are to blame. Perhaps all of us. Hagelin is the author of "The Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a Culture That's Gone Stark Raving Mad. And she's joining us now from Washington.
We thank you so much for joining us. What's your message?
REBECCA HAGELIN, AUTHOR, "HOME INVASION": My message is to parents watching tonight. And I'm sure there are a lot of parents who are watching whose teenagers may be upstairs in the privacy of their own bedroom, consuming hours of Internet pornography.
Today's parents are out of touch with the fact that their kids are consuming, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 6.5 hours of media today. And that media is overwhelmingly filled with sexual messages, messages of infidelity, messages that are getting a lot of kids in trouble.
SANCHEZ: Is it the fault of the people providing the media? Or is it the fault of the parents who are not monitoring it properly?
HAGELIN: It's both. It is both. But you know why we're trying to make efforts to get Hollywood to clean up their act? The line I like to say is, it doesn't take an act of Congress to take back your home. It takes simple hands-on parenting.
You know, I would challenge every mom and dad to realize that today's kids are under immense pressure by a culture that is trying to reach below their belts and for their wallets. Our kids spend an estimated $200 billion on media and entertainment.
SANCHEZ: So they're being - essentially, you know what it is? They're being manipulated. Boy.
SANCHEZ: And I got to tell you, just from a personal standpoint, I've got four kids. I've got a 5-year-old girl, a 7-year old boy, a 14-year-old, and a 16-year-old. And I'm constantly embarrassed when I turn on the TV to the point where I just turn it off and say, you know, we either got to look for something else? Because it's tough to find an alternative - an alternate to it, isn't it?
HAGELIN: It is, Rick. And the thing that you just pointed out is a message I would love for all parents to take away with them. And that is, turn it off, if you find it offensive, if it's not appropriate for your kids. See, far too many parents will see something...
SANCHEZ: Yes, it's not about -- you know what? It's not about when Rick and his wife Suzanne are there. It's about the times when we're not there. What are we supposed to do about that?
HAGELIN: Well, it's actually both, because one of the biggest problems children have, is their parents will be in the room when garbage comes on. Or their parents will let them have unfettered access to Internet porn or watch hours of MTV. And your silence as a parent is an endorsement to your children that the behavior that they're watching...
SANCHEZ: But how do you buck the trend without making them scared of something as natural and as beautiful as sex? Because it's not something I want to stop them from understanding. But at the same time, I don't want them to live or act as if they're oversexed?
HAGELIN: Well, you know what? God created sex for marriage. And the strongest thing we can teach our children is the importance of fidelity, the importance of purity when they're young, of realizing that you know what? You're going to have a better life if you wait for sex until your married, that it is a beautiful act that God created himself, but that there is a proper place for it.
And I believe in childhood, there should be a protected space of innocence. But if mom and dad don't stand in the gap, if mom and dad don't say, you know what? My home is going to be a safe oasis, my home is going to be the place of nurturing and values, if we don't do that, then our kids are going to be vulnerable to the mass marketers.
SANCHEZ: But you know what's interesting? And let's bring this back to Genarlow's case now, because I think it's certainly something that fits here. And that is to say if Genarlow were my son, heaven help me how I would have been with him, how I would have disciplined, how much I would have screamed at him, and how angry I would have been at him.
But I don't want the government stepping in and trying to legislate this kind of stuff. You're not saying you want the government to step in as well, do you?
HAGELIN: Again, it doesn't take an act of Congress to take back your home. Every parent watching tonight needs to evaluate what pressures are on their children, and then step in and relieve those pressures by setting some standards.
I have three teenagers. It's a daily battle, Rick. But you know what? I wake up every morning and say, dear Lord please help me on this day, on this one day to instill in my children values and morals that reflect the value that you have for their lives and the potential for their lives.
SANCHEZ: Do you feel like you're bucking the trend? And is it a losing battle, given the society that we now live in?
HAGELIN: I'll tell you what. You are bucking the trend. And it's a big battle. It's a daily battle, but it is not a losing battle because the polls show, and the studies of children behavior show, guess who the biggest influence is on them? Their parents. Their parents.
And so the answer, mom and dad, is not whether or not you're an influence on your children. It's what kind of influence are you. Are you just being silent? And therefore they think you're endorsing that behavior?
SANCHEZ: No, listen. I get it.
SANCHEZ: Sometimes we get caught up in our jobs, in our lives. And we let things go that sometimes we may have to answer for later.
Rebecca, this is a good interview. I really enjoyed talking to you.
HAGELIN: Well, thank you. You, too, Rick.
SANCHEZ: I'll have my wife give you a call from time to time to try and figure this out, as many parents I imagine want to. I appreciate it.
Listen, by the way, a check of the hour's headlines is coming up after the break. But the first thing we want to do, because I know so many people have been watching tonight, as they have been, we're picking up so many more viewers over the last couple of weeks as we do these kind of stories, we want to now air your responses to our last call question. Controversial one, I know, as you've been watching. Put yourself in the judge's seat. How would you have sentenced Genarlow Wilson in this case? I'm interested to see what you had to say. So, here we go.
CALLER: I wouldn't have convicted him. I can believe they prosecuted him. To me, amazing. But that is what's wrong in a society where guys like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Bill O'Reilly, conservatives, choose judges and prosecutors.
CALLER: I think if you're going to, you know, sentence one person, you have to do all. You can't pass judgment on one person and one person only.
CALLER: I would not sentence him to anything at all. That young man should be in college. This is an outrageous and a disgrace.
CALLER: I think the judge and most men in this world would be in jail, too, if -- because all of us have made mistakes.
CALLER: That I think it's criminal that this young man will have his life completely ruined by a moment of indiscretion.
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