DOUGLASVILLE, Georgia (CNN) -- Civil rights leader Al Sharpton blasted Georgia's attorney general Thursday for challenging the release of a man serving 10 years in prison for a teenage sexual encounter, saying, "People did not suffer for your career."
Sharpton did not mention Attorney General Thurbert Baker by name, but called on "those that are in office because of us" to take action to get 21-year-old Genarlow Wilson freed.
"Don't walk over the bodies of martyrs and achieve a position of personal stature, and then forget how you got there and sit there in silence while your children are locked in jail for unjust sentences," said Sharpton, a radio talk-show host and former Democratic presidential candidate. "There's something ungrateful about those who would benefit off the blood of martyrs and not stand up for those that put you there in the first place."
Baker, one of two African-American officials elected statewide in Georgia, said in response, "I have the utmost respect and appreciation for the sacrifices made by Dr. King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement who changed America for the better.
"Those leaders also believed in a system governed by laws, because the alternative is a lawless society. I am doing no less than following the law that I have sworn to uphold."
Sharpton, the Rev. Joseph Lowery and other civil rights leaders led a rally Thursday to the Douglas County Courthouse to protest the handling of the Wilson case.
Wilson, now 21, was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17. Under the state law in effect at the time, Wilson received a mandatory 10-year sentence, of which he has already served more than two years. Watch Thursday's rally for Wilson »
Partly as a result of Wilson's conviction, state legislators changed the law to make such consensual conduct between teenagers a misdemeanor, rather than a felony. But that change wasn't made retroactive, so it did not help Wilson.
A state judge ruled in June that Wilson's punishment was cruel and unusual and voided it on constitutional grounds, reducing the term to one year and ordering Wilson to be kept off Georgia's sex offender registry, as the old law required. But Baker announced he would appeal the decision, arguing that the judge did not have the authority "to reduce or modify the judgment of the trial court."
The move has kept Wilson behind bars while his lawyers seek the approval of the state Supreme Court to allow his release on bond.
Sharpton called Wilson's sentence "wicked, punitive, immoral and illegal, and he threw in a jab at President Bush's decision to spare former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby from prison by commuting Libby's 30-month sentence for perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators probing the leak of a CIA operative's identity.
"If this young man's name was Scooter Wilson, he wouldn't be in jail," Sharpton told supporters at a "rally for justice" at the Douglas County courthouse, west of Atlanta. "If he had a different complexion, and a different connection, we'd be having a welcome-home party. But since he didn't have anybody in the Oval Office to deal with excessive sentencing for him, he got hundreds in the streets that will speak on his behalf." E-mail to a friend