updated 3/4/2004 2:04:07 PM ET 2004-03-04T19:04:07

Hundreds of people rallied this week in support of a young black man who was sentenced to a minimum of 10 years in prison after he had sex with a 15-year-old white schoolmate.

Marcus Dixon, a high school football player who was 18 at the time, was acquitted last year of rape charges but found guilty of aggravated child molestation.

His supporters say wouldn’t have received such a long sentence if he were white. The Georgia Supreme Court is considering Dixon’s appeal.

“We call out to the Supreme Court of Georgia: Do the right thing and set Marcus free,” said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “Mandatory minimums, they are wrong and they are evil.”

Many in attendance said Dixon was victimized by overzealous prosecutors who tried to put him in prison using any law they could find.

“It seems like for us, they just make up laws as they go along,” said Virginia Bazemore, who traveled from Savannah for the rally. “We see a lot of this happening with our young black men.”

Dixon, once an honor student at Pepperell High School in Rome, had sex with the younger student at a trailer after school in February 2003. Prosecutors said he used force against her.

Dixon’s attorneys argued to the state Supreme Court in January that the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws amount to cruel and unusual punishment. The court is expected to rule this spring.

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