Black teen's conviction overturned in Ga. case
His 10-year sentence for sex with a white girl was criticized as racist
ATLANTA -- The Georgia Supreme Court threw out a black high school football star's conviction and 10-year prison sentence for having sex with an underage white girl, a case that led to allegations of racism and of heavy-handed prosecution.
The court ruled, 4 to 3, yesterday that 18-year-old Marcus Dixon should have been prosecuted solely on the lesser charge of misdemeanor statutory rape rather than aggravated child molestation.
Dixon had claimed he was targeted by prosecutors because he is black and the girl, who was 15 at the time, is white. His case drew protests from the NAACP.
He was acquitted of rape, but found guilty of aggravated child molestation, which carries a mandatory 10-year sentence, and statutory rape. The high court let stand the statutory rape conviction, which is punishable by up to a year behind bars.
Ken Jones, Dixon's legal guardian, said he called Dixon after hearing about the decision. ''Marcus was crying. I was crying," he said. ''We were both doing the dance."
Prosecutor Leigh Patterson said she would ask the court to reconsider.
Dixon was an honor student and a star athlete at Pepperell High School in Rome. His scholarship to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, was revoked after his arrest.
He had sex with the younger student in a trailer after school in February 2003. The defense said the sex was consensual; prosecutors argued that Dixon forced himself on the girl.
The girl testified that she tried to escape from the trailer, where she was working as a custodian, but did not scream or shout for help.
''I was too scared. I was afraid he'd hit me or something," she said.
Dixon's case led some lawmakers to push for a change in the state's mandatory sentencing law, and members of the State House black caucus broke into applause yesterday when the court's ruling was announced.
''What a joy it is in our state to see justice for a young man," said state Rep. Representative Alisha Thomas-Morgan.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, said the ruling is a victory against arbitrary law enforcement.
''We thought the law was being unfairly applied. Mandatory minimums just don't work. This is really more than a black-and-white case," Mfume said.
The girl's lawyer, Mike Prieto, said: ''It terrifies me the message this sends to all the young women in the state of Georgia when they're confronted with a star athlete who wants to have sex."