Judge Gives Grieving Jaywalking Mom No Jail Time
In an unusual decision yesterday, a judge in Georgia’s Cobb County State Court has sentenced a jaywalking mother to 40 hours of community service and 12 months probation, and has given her the option of a new trial. The Marietta, GA, single mother had faced up to three years in jail, although the driver who hit and killed her young son served only six months for his crime.
On July 12, a jury found the 30-year-old woman, Raquel Nelson, guilty of second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and failure to use a crosswalk during an incident that occurred on the night of April 10, 2010.
Several witnesses spoke on Nelson’s behalf, the judge received many letters and emails of support, and there was even an online petition requesting no jail time for Nelson. It is unclear whether Nelson will pursue a new trial or not.
According to Liz Goodwin of Yahoo! News’ The Lookout blog:
Nelson, a working mother and college student who doesn’t own a car, said she was out shopping for supplies for her birthday with her three children when they missed their bus home, making them an hour late. She described what happened to her that night to the Atlanta Constitution-Journal:
When the Cobb County Transit bus finally stopped directly across from Somerpoint Apartments, night had fallen. She and the children crossed two lanes and waited with other passengers on the raised median for a break in traffic. The nearest crosswalks were three-tenths of a mile in either direction, and Nelson wanted to get her children inside as soon as possible. A.J. carried a plastic bag holding a goldfish they’d purchased.
‘One girl ran across the street,’ Nelson said. ‘For some odd reason, I guess he saw the girl and decided to run out behind her. I said, ‘Stop, A.J.,’ and he was in the middle of the street so I said keep going. That’s when we all got hit.’
The driver who hit and killed four-year-old A.J. Nelson and injured other members of the Nelson family with his van as they were crossing the street was Jerry Guy, who had two prior hit-and-run convictions. Guy was released on Oct. 29, 2010, after serving a six-month prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to a hit-and-run, and is currently serving five years of probation.
Nelson and her younger daughter suffered minor injuries in the accident, while her older daughter was unhurt. Guy admitted at the time to his lawyer to having consumed alcohol earlier the day of the incident, while also being on pain medication. Guy is also partially blind in one eye, and had two prior hit-and-run convictions on his record that both occurred on Feb. 17, 1997.
Radley Balko, writing for HuffPost Crime, says:
Nelson, a black woman, was convicted by an all-white jury. She relies on public transportation; she is a pedestrian in a car-oriented Atlanta suburb. During jury questioning, none of the jurors who would eventually convict Nelson raised their hands when asked if they relied on public transportation. Just one juror admitted to ever having ridden a public bus, though in response to a subsequent question, a few said they’d taken a bus to Braves games.
Nelson was not judged by a jury of her peers; she was convicted by a jury that had no understanding of the circumstances that compelled her to cross the street where she did.
According to the Daily Mail, other tenants in Nelson’s apartment complex had complained to the city about their difficulties getting home from the bus stop. The Transportation in America blog shows a photo of the stretch of highway where Nelson crossed as evidence city planners are guilty of ‘poor planning and dangerous designs.’
In an exclusive interview with NBC’s Ann Curry, as reported by Scott Stump for MSNBC.com’s TODAY People, Raquel Nelson said:
‘I’ve had to accept that he’s gotten six months. There’s nothing I can do about it. Even though he has had a history of it, I know that nobody gets up that day and says, ‘I’m going to kill a 4-year-old.’ I’ve had to forgive that portion of it. However, I think to come after me so much harder than they did him, it’s a slap in the face. This will never end for me.’
While the roadside memorial for her son is now gone, Nelson’s memory of the accident will be there forever.
‘I miss him a whole lot,’ she said after taking a deep breath. ‘I think that my other two daughters are the reason that I’ve been able to survive the situation, [by] just giving me something to move on for.’