Genarlow Wilson and the N Word

Friday, July 13th, 2007

If you haven’t been following, you might read my Hit & Run post from yesterday to set this post up.

The N-word I'm referring to, of course, is "Nifong."

Georgia political blogger Griftdrift has been all over the Wilson case, since February. He posts a summary on the Volokh site:

The tape story began in the last legislative session during arguments to make the change in the law retroactive so as to encompass Genarlow Wilson. Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson rose in the Senate and delivered a lie-laced speech which included alluding that rape had indeed occurred. A CNN reporter covering the case caught the speech on tape. He then went to D.A. McDade's office, viewed the tape, spoke to jurors and publicly pantsed Johnson for his fibbing.

Johnson continued his campaign by appearing on a local talk radio show. He admitted he had seen the tape and basically used the argument that if anyone saw the tape they would change their mind.

After questioning by myself and others Johnson admitted he had a copy of the tape and it was hand delivered to him by the D.A.s office.

District Attorney McDade or his office has been handing out copies of the tape to anyone he feels may be sympathetic, apparently including syndicated talk show host Neil Boortz. But despite the "just trust me" assurances of Wilson's detractors asserting that the tape clearly shows a rape, the jury in the case saw differently.

Jurors voted to acquit Wilson of raping the 17-year-old.

"I mean it wasn't even an hour," said jury forewoman Marie Manigault. "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."

It seems that DA McDade, with the help of Sen. Johnson, is attempting to use video footage of the act for which Wilson was acquitted of rape to tarnish Wilson's image, and quell the mounting public outrage over his sentence for the consensual oral sex. Griftdrift points to the following passage from the Georgia Bar on prosecutoral responsibilities:

The prosecutor in a criminal case shall:

(g) except for statements that are necessary to inform the public of the nature and extent of the prosecutor's action and that serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose, refrain from making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused

Griftdrift thiks this is iffy. I'm not so sure. Remember, the video was being distributed illegally, and was distributed and shown to media and politicians in order to spur public condemnation of Wilson based on a charge for which he was acquitted. What's more, after viewing his copy of the tape, Sen. Johnson used it to argue in the state senate against making the Georgia law repealing the poorly written prior statute retroactive, so as to apply to Wilson.

That's certainly much more than a "statement," and it goes above and beyond merely informing the public of why the prosecutor brought charges against Wilson in the first place. The rape case is settled. That charge can't be brought again. Instead, McDade's selectively airing the videotape, to try Wilson again in the court of public opinion.

The punchline to all of this is that under the new federal law the Walsh Act, defense attorneys in child pornography cases are given extremely limited access to the evidence (read: the pictures) against their clients, to the point where the defense bar says it hampers their ability to mount an adequate defense (thanks to De Novo for the tip). All the evidence remains in the state's hands, making it difficult for defense experts to review it. Here are the congressional findings explaining the need for the access provisions in the Wash Act:

“every instance of viewing images of child pornography represents a renewed violation of the privacy of the victims and a repetition of their abuse,” and therefore, “it is imperative to prohibit the reproduction of child pornography in criminal cases.”

If that's the justification for barring defense counsel access to evidence against their clients, I don't see how McDade should possibly be allowed to get away with distributing child porn to condemn Genarlow Wilson for a crime for which he's already been acquitted.

Then there's the matter of how the mother of alleged victim keeps changing her story after repeated visits from McDade's office. Or how McDade's office surreptitiously taped a conversation between the mother and a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

So let's recap: You have a star athlete accused of rape. You have a prosecutor who brings charges he probably shouldn't have, based on flimsy evidence, in this case an apparently ambiguous video. Said prosecutor then engages in ethically dubious and possibly criminal behavior to preserve the conviction and turn public opinion against the accused. And you have an ever-evolving story from the side of the alleged victim.

Where have I heard all of this before?

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