Georgia teen spent 15 months in jail

ATLANTA -- High school football star Marcus Dixon was released from the Floyd County jail Monday after the Georgia Supreme Court threw out his 10-year prison sentence for sexual offenses with a 15-year-old classmate.

Dixon had spent 15 months behind bars before being released on bond. His release was granted by Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge Walter Matthews following an afternoon bond hearing.

Matthews ordered Dixon, 18, to stay in the county, check in with probation authorities and stay away from his high school and the girl involved in his case.

"I'm thankful to be out," Dixon said following his release. "I'm thankful to all the people who helped me. And I'm just glad to be home."

"Marcus is thrilled to be with his family, and we're thrilled to have him out of jail," his attorney, David Balser, said.

Dixon was an honors student and a football player at Pepperell High School in Rome, Ga.. He had been granted a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt, but it was revoked after his arrest. At the time, Dixon was considered among the top recruits in Vanderbilt's 2003 class.

The court ruled that Dixon should have been prosecuted on a lesser charge of misdemeanor statutory rape, rather than aggravated child molestation. He claimed that he was targeted because he is black and the girl involved is white. His case drew protests from the NAACP.

In May 2003, Floyd County prosecutors alleged that Dixon forcibly raped the 10th-grader in a trailer on the high school's campus. Dixon's attorneys argued that the sex was consensual and that the rape story was a fabrication designed so the victim could avoid trouble with her father.

Dixon claimed he met the girl -- a classmate in a home economics class -- after school three months earlier and arranged to visit her in a classroom trailer, where she was working as a student custodian.

The two reportedly had sex on a table in the back of the classroom, and the girl later told school counselors about the incident and they contacted police.

"The person I thought I knew, she was pretty smart, she was kind of laid back, but she was very talkative, friendly. She loved to joke around," Dixon told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from prison after his initial conviction. "She seemed pretty sweet to me until this went down. It was like she's a totally different person."

Jurors in the original trial acquitted Dixon of rape, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and sexual battery. The jury agreed with Dixon's claim that the sex was consensual and found no evidence to support the "forcible crimes" charges.

But Dixon was convicted of aggravated child molestation and statutory rape, primarily because of the strictness of Georgia's laws with regard to sexual activity between adolescents.

Statutory rape applies when a person has sex with anyone under age 16. But the offense is considered a misdemeanor if the victim is 14 or 15 and when the defendant is no more than three years older than the victim, which was the case in Dixon's trial.

A person commits aggravated child molestation when that person sexually molests someone under the age of 15 and injures the child. In Dixon's case, the 15-year-old victim suffered slight injuries and bruising, though a nurse and member of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network advisory board said at the time that those injuries could result from either forcible sex or if the victim were a virgin prior to having sex.

Upon learning of the ruling, members of the Georgia state House black caucus broke into applause.

One state representative said it's a "joy" to see justice provided to a young man.

The Georgia Supreme Court's ruling will let the statutory rape conviction stand. It carries a maximum one-year sentence and a $1,000 fine.

The prosecutor in the case said she will ask the justices to reconsider the ruling.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.