updated 5/3/2004 10:56:48 AM ET 2004-05-03T14:56:48

A black teenager’s 10-year prison sentence for having sex with a younger, white schoolmate was thrown out Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court ruled 18-year-old Marcus Dixon should have been prosecuted just on the lesser charge of misdemeanor statutory rape rather than aggravated child molestation for having sex with a 15-year-old in February 2003.

Dixon has claimed he was targeted because he is black and had sex with a white girl. His case drew protests from the NAACP.

Dixon was acquitted on felony rape charges but found guilty of aggravated child molestation, which comes with a mandatory decade-long sentence, as well as statutory rape. Monday’s ruling lets the statutory rape conviction, which carries a maximum sentence of one year and a $1,000 fine, stand.

In its 4-3 decision, the Georgia Supreme Court didn’t rule on whether the 10-year sentence was cruel and unusual. It said only that Dixon shouldn’t have been tried for aggravated child molestation because the statutory rape law would be more relevant.

“It would be entirely incongruous with the intent of the Legislature ... if the state retained the discretion to prosecute the exact same conduct as either misdemeanor statutory rape or felony child molestation,” wrote Chief Justice Norman Fletcher.

“Clearly, when, as here, the sexual act involves injury to the victim, the General Assembly intended that the aggravated child molestation statute apply,” wrote Justice Harris Hines.

Dixon, an honor student and star football player at Pepperell High School in Rome, was accused of having sex with the 15-year-old student at a trailer after school.

The defense argued the sex between the two teens was consensual and had been planned.

Prosecutors argued Dixon forced himself on his victim, causing vaginal bruising and tearing.

The girl testified that she tried to escape from the trailer, where she was working as an assistant 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, a senior, had been granted a scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. It was revoked after his arrest.

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