ATLANTA (AP) _ The angry protests that followed Thurbert Baker's refusal to release an inmate serving a 10-year sentence for a consensual sex act between teens was nothing new for Georgia's attorney general.
Such rallies were common in 1999 when Baker led the charge to prosecute state Sen. Ralph David Abernathy III, son of the civil rights icon, for misappropriating state funds.
For Baker, it's simple: The law is the law.
Baker, a Democrat, is Georgia's top black elected official, but he has repeatedly found himself at odds with black leaders and his own party. He vigorously defended Georgia's voter ID law, criticized as disenfranchising poor and minority voters; critics also have complained he has done little to stop Georgia's prisons from filling up with black youths.
This time, the uproar involves Genarlow Wilson, who was sentenced to a then-mandatory 10 years for oral sex with a 15-year-old girl when he was 17.
Wilson's advocates say race was one reason the young man received a sentence they describe as appallingly harsh, noting that he and the girl _ both black _ were only two years apart and the law has since been changed. On Monday, a judge ordered Wilson released, agreeing that the long sentence was a ``grave miscarriage of justice.''
Baker, within hours, filed a notice of appeal, saying the judge exceeded his authority in Wilson's case. And that means Wilson, now more than 28 months into his sentence, remains behind bars.
That's Baker in a nutshell, said Ken Hodges, chairman of the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia and district attorney of Dougherty County Judicial Circuit.
``He's by the books, as straight an arrow as there is,'' Hodges said. ``I've seen some people pull out the race card with him, but that is just not the way he operates.''
Some black leaders said they were troubled by Baker's history in the Abernathy case and in the mail fraud prosecution of state Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson, also black.
``Those cases were nothing but political persecution and lowdown politics,'' said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, an Atlanta Democrat. ``Prosecutors have discretion and I would like to see him exercise that discretion a little better.''
Baker, who is notoriously press-shy and rarely holds news conferences, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Born in Rocky Mount, N.C. in 1952, Baker attended segregated schools until he was a sophomore in high school. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1975. A fencing enthusiast, he won the 1975 Atlantic Coast Conference individual sabre championship.
He went on to graduate from Emory University's law school. He managed his own law firm and worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, then served nine years in the state House of Representatives, where he rose to become a floor leader for then-Gov. Zell Miller.
In the statehouse, he helped pass Georgia's ``two strikes'' law, designed to keep violent offenders in jail without possibility of parole. He also succeeded in passing tougher laws to combat financial identity fraud.
When Miller appointed Baker attorney general in 1997, he made history as the first black to hold the post. In 2006 he was elected to his third four-year term.
Last year Baker was selected by his peers as president of the National Association of Attorneys General for a term that expires at the end of the year.
Now Baker is under pressure from Wilson supporters, including former President Jimmy Carter, who have said the case raises questions about race and the criminal justice system.
A jury found Wilson guilty in 2005 of aggravated child molestation for having oral sex with the girl during a 2003 New Year's Eve party involving alcohol and marijuana. Although the sex was consensual, it was illegal under Georgia law.
Had the two had sexual intercourse, it would have fallen under Georgia's ``Romeo and Juliet'' exception. But in 2003, oral sex for teens still constituted aggravated child molestation and carried a mandatory sentence, plus listing on the sex offender registry.
Lawmakers last year voted to close that loophole. But the state's top court said the new law could not be applied retroactively to Wilson's case.
Baker's appeal involves the judge's ruling Monday that voided Wilson's felony conviction and replaced it with a misdemeanor carrying a 12-month maximum sentence and no sex offender registry. Baker argued that Georgia law does not give a judge authority to reduce or modify the sentence imposed by the trial court.
A bond hearing is set for July 5 to determine if Wilson can be released during the appeal process. No date has yet been set for hearings on the appeal.