Penalty Too Severe, And Sex Was Consensual, She Says; Prosecutors Suspect Defendants' Supporters Have Been Pressuring Her
Genarlow Wilson should never have been criminally charged and imprisoned for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl at a New Year's Eve party more than three years ago, the girl's mother says.
Veda Cannon said the sex between her daughter, Wilson and four other teens was consensual and regrets she didn't ask prosecutors not to charge them.
"I felt like Douglas County was trying to make an example out of these boys," Cannon, 39, of Douglasville, asserted Tuesday in what she said was her first interview about the case. "They should have been made to pay for their actions, but not to this severity," she said.
In a strange twist Wednesday, Cannon scrambled to soften some of Tuesday's comments following a visit to her home from a Douglas County prosecutor who had learned of her interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Responding to Cannon's assertions, county prosecutors said they suspect Cannon is bending to pressure from people supporting the defendants, an assertion she denied.
"Never once did she ever ask us not to prosecute this case," said Douglas County Assistant District Attorney Eddie Barker, who worked closely with Cannon during the case. "Where was she at when all of this was going on? Why is she just now telling you this three years later?"
Wilson, meanwhile, is fighting to get his felony conviction and 10-year prison sentence thrown out. He has so far spent more than two years of that sentence behind bars. At the same time, his case has captured national media attention. And his appeal has drawn support from several influential people across the country, including former President Jimmy Carter. Three of the four others convicted of molesting Cannon's daughter remain in prison.
Twists And Turns
A bizarre series of events occurred Wednesday morning after Douglas prosecutors learned Cannon was speaking to the press. Cannon said Barker and a colleague soon showed up at her home with an audio recorder to discuss her comments to the AJC.
In a subsequent interview with the AJC, she raised concerns that she was being misquoted.
After that conversation, Douglas County District Attorney David McDade disclosed his office had taped Cannon's conversation with the AJC.
"We were actually at her home when you were talking to her [Wednesday] morning," McDade said. "We were recording the conversation and so we have a tape of her telling you that you were twisting her words."
In the initial interview Tuesday, Cannon described a conversation she had with Barker before Wilson's case went to trial. She said she had asked Barker what would happen if she did not want to participate in the prosecution, and she said he responded by telling her she could face legal trouble for "neglect" as a parent, an assertion Barker vehemently denied.
On Wednesday, Cannon said Barker was not "threatening" her when he told her what could happen if she did not cooperate with the prosecution. She said Barker was giving her advice she had solicited and that his office was open and helpful to her.
Cannon ultimately testified in Wilson's trial, pointing out her daughter on a videotape of the party that was played for the jury. Her daughter did not take the stand.
The Journal-Constitution is not identifying Cannon's daughter or the unrelated 17-year-old girl in the case because both were victims of sex crimes. Cannon said she did not want to be photographed for fear that publicity surrounding the case would affect her three other children, ages 22, 17 and 10.
Videotape From Party
The case stems from a 2003 New Year's Eve party involving alcohol and marijuana. Wilson's friends rented neighboring hotel rooms that night at a Days Inn in Douglasville. One of the partygoers videotaped the events that evening with a handheld camera.
The tape shows Wilson having intercourse with a 17-year-old. Both appear intoxicated in the video. Wilson was charged with raping the 17-year-old but was acquitted.
In another part of the video, Wilson is lying on his back in one of the motel room beds and receiving oral sex from Cannon's daughter. Wilson does not appear to be forcing the girl in the video. Cannon said her daughter told her the sex was consensual.
Authorities went to the hotel room and confiscated the videotape after the 17-year-old girl's family complained to police. Wilson was found guilty of aggravated child molestation involving Cannon's daughter, a crime that carried a minimum 10-year prison sentence under the law at the time.
The Legislature, however, changed the law last year to make similar acts a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.
Five other male youths reached plea deals in the case. Wilson was the only one to go to trial.
"She did not want any of this to happen," Cannon said of her daughter. "She was friends with all of them."
Cannon said her daughter misled her into believing that night that she was heading to a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party and that it would be supervised by parents. She said she instructed her daughter to return home by 1:30 a.m. on New Year's Day. Cannon said she never would have let her daughter go out that night had she known she was going to a party at a hotel.
"I know what my instructions were, and I don't feel that I have to justify myself to anyone," Cannon said.
Cannon's daughter, now 18, declined a request for an interview through her mother. Cannon said her daughter and Wilson had been classmates at Douglas County High School. The girl graduated from another high school before joining the Navy to pursue a career in nursing, her mother said. She is not married and has a 2-year-old son. Cannon proudly showed off photos of her daughter and grandson Wednesday.
"She is trying to put it all behind her," Cannon said, adding that her daughter regrets having sex that night. "She does not want to come back to Douglasville because it is still a touchy subject. She still deals with it every day."
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