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Video: Mom ‘thankful’ for probation in son’s jaywalk death

  1. Closed captioning of: Mom ‘thankful’ for probation in son’s jaywalk death

    >>> first, nbc is in marietta, georgia, with the latest on this story. lilia, good morning.

    >> good morning to you, ann. raquel nelson's attorney was outraged at his client's conviction, now he says he's surprised at an unexpected twist in her case. along with her sentence raquel is being offered a brand new trial.

    >> if you will stand in the court right now.

    >> reporter: after facing the loss of her 4-year-old son to a hit and run driver --

    >> you are found guilty --

    >> reporter: raquel nelson appeared in court yesterday to face her own sentencing in a case that's angered many. in the spring of last year nelson and her three children got off the bus on this road in the atlanta area where options for pedestrians are very few. the closest crosswalk was a third of a mile away, so the family tried to cross four busy lanes of traffic to get home.

    >> i was trying to hurry up and get home so we wouldn't have to be in the dark.

    >> reporter: and that's when driver jerry guy struck them, killing little a.j. and injuring his mom and sister. guy, who had a previous conviction admitted to drinking earlier that day. he served six months in prison and was released on probation.

    >> i know nobody wakes up and says on a day that 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 is a slap in the face .

    >> reporter: a jury convicted the 30-year-old single mother on charges of second degree vehicular homicide , reckless conduct and jaywalking. her attorney was stunned and deeply upset.

    >> i was shocked, and i was wondering if they had heard the same case that i had heard.

    >> reporter: the case sparked wide spread outrage, more than 130,000 people petitioned online for leniency. nelson faced the possible three years in prison, but on tuesday a judge gave her the unusual choice of community service and serving one year on probation or go to trial again.

    >> i'm not familiar with this ever happening. the judge took it upon herself to basically grant my client a new trial. i was very pleased with the decision. i think she made the right decision due to the facts in this case.

    >> reporter: which path nelson will take is still unclear.

    >> hopefully we can move on from this situation better than we have been.

    >> reporter: we reached out to prosecutors but they say they can't comment on the ruling because the case is technically still pending.

    >> thank you so much. raquel nelson is now joining us exclusively once again along with her aunt loretta williams. good morning to both of you.

    >> good morning.

    >> when you heard the judge say one year probation, what were your emotions?

    >> one year probation, it was better than jail time, of course, so i was just happy to be walking out of the courtroom.

    >> relieved.

    >> yes.

    >> knowing you're going to be able to see your children without having to go back to jail.

    >> yes.

    >> the judge went further and offered you an opportunity to go through the trial again. do you want an opportunity to clear your record?

    >> that would be good, but my options right now, there's a part of me that doesn't really want to go through it again, but by the same token, i think, if i've done it once, then i will do it again.

    >> it's about a measure of how much faith you have in the system.

    >> that, also.

    >> so you're assessing that now. is that fair to say?

    >> it is. like i say, when she said what she said, it was a relief and i thought it was a wonderful thing. i mean, i probably could have kissed her if i could have. but it's a nice chance if i can start over, then that would be great, too, and this process is not over yet, but there will be an end.

    >> are you counseling, loretta , are you counseling raquel to go through this again? what's your advice to her? you've been with her from the very beginning, i should mention.

    >> absolutely. i basically -- i'm here for a support system and i'm going to be here with her through the end, just like i have been all along. and basically whatever she decides, i'm going to stand by her and make sure that she gets the support like she's been getting, which is so very thankful to the judge and her decision and we really thank her for that decision.

    >> do you think she can endure, and i'm speaking about you as if you're not here, but do you think raquel can endure a trial again, knowing her?

    >> i think my niece is a very, very heroic young lady . she has been very, very strong, and she has made herself strong for her other two daughters, my other two nieces. and i just look at her as a champion at this point.

    >> i know this case has brought out an outpouring of support. lilia just reported on that. is there a takeaway after all you've been through that i suppose to some degree compensating for you? is there any sort of peaceful place you can get to based on what's happened?

    >> yes. just the fact that the judge exercise such leniency in a situation, it gave me a hope that the justice system may not fail and the outpouring of support and everything has really been excellent throughout the situation and has helped hold me up and my family up. no one should go to the bottom. you have to go up.

    >> so you're going up.

    >> yes.

    >> how long do you have to make your decision?

    >> i think a month.

    >> 30 days .

    >> yes. 30 days .

    >> all right. well, i guess we'll find out what you have to say. we look forward to hearing what your decision is. but no matter which way it goes, i can see that there's a smile on your face.

    >> yeah, yeah.

    >> which people have been wishing for you. raquel , thank you so much for speaking to us. loret loretta , thank you for speaking to us. now, let's get a check of

TODAY contributor
updated 7/27/2011 9:26:02 AM ET 2011-07-27T13:26:02

Raquel Nelson will not be going to jail — at least not anytime soon.

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The single mother from Marietta, Ga., who potentially faced more prison time for jaywalking than the man convicted for the hit-and-run accident that killed her 4-year-old son, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 12 months probation in Cobb County State Court, but then also given the option of a new trial in an unusual decision.

“One year probation, it was better than jail time, of course,” a relieved Nelson told Ann Curry in an exclusive live interview Wednesday. “I was just happy to be walking out of the courtroom.”

“I'm not familiar with this ever happening,“ Nelson’s attorney, David Savoy, told NBC News regarding the option for a new trial. But, he added, “I was very pleased with the decision and I think she [the judge] made the right decision.”

Nelson put her feelings about the judge more directly to Curry Wednesday: “When she said what she said, it was a relief. I probably could have kissed her.”

Whether Nelson will accept the option of the new trial was less clear. Asked by Curry if she wanted the opportunity to clear her record, Nelson said: “We’re weighing our options right now. There’s a part of me that doesn't really want to go through it again, but by the same token, I'll look at it and say, ‘You know, if I've done it once, if that's the greater purpose, then I'll do it again.” Nelson said that she has 30 days to decide whether to accept the option of a new trial.

Several witnesses spoke on Nelson's behalf at the sentencing, and numerous supportive emails were presented. Her situation also galvanized the online community: A petition posted on change.org asking that she not receive any jail time received more than 140,000 signatures in 48 hours.

Video: Watch her speak out about judge's decision on TODAY (on this page)

In the courtroom, Nelson's therapist, one of her children's teachers, and her brother spoke about her care for her children and her family, causing Nelson to dab her tear-filled eyes. Letters from her father, her boss, and a staff member at Chattahoochee Tech, where she is a student, were all read. Emails and letters from local citizens were also presented, and the judge indicated that she had personally received emails of support as well.

On July 12, Nelson was convicted 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. She and her three children had gotten off at a bus stop in Marietta, and were trying to cross a four-lane highway without using a crosswalk in order to reach their apartment.

Jerry Guy, a man who had two prior hit-and-run convictions, struck the family with his van as they were crossing, killing 4-year-old A.J. Nelson in the process. Guy served a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to a hit-and-run and was released on Oct. 29. He is currently serving five years of probation. Nelson could have been sentenced to up to 36 months in jail.

‘No sympathy’
“I’ve had to accept that he’s gotten six months,’’ Nelson told Ann Curry in a live interview on TODAY Monday. “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.’’

“Miss Nelson was shown no sympathy whatsoever by the system,’’ attorney Mark Schwartz told NBC News. “This will live with her forever.’’

Image: 4-year-old A.J. Nelson, killed bya hit-and-run driver
Four-year-old A.J. Nelson was killed by a hit-and-run driver. Because she did not use a crosswalk, his mother faces up to three years in jail.

Nelson and her younger daughter suffered minor injuries in the accident, while her older daughter was unhurt. Through his lawyer, Guy admitted at the time to having consumed alcohol earlier in the day while also on pain medication. Guy also 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. He received a two-year prison sentence but was released in less than a year for those convictions.

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According to news reports, residents of Nelson’s apartment complex had previously complained to the city about the difficulty of getting home from the bus stop. The nearest crosswalk from the bus stop was nearly three-tenths of a mile away, so like many others who regularly use public transportation in that area, Nelson crossed to the center median with her children. After several others had crossed the other two lanes to reach the other side of the highway, she followed with her children while clutching grocery bags. A.J. was then fatally struck by Guy’s van.

“It is her fault and it is his fault, but at the same time she’s suffered such a great loss, so I just don’t see what putting her in prison is going to do,’’ Michael Johnson, one of Nelson’s neighbors, told NBC News.

During jury questioning for Nelson’s trial, when members of the jury that would eventually convict her were asked if any of them relied on public transportation, no one raised their hand. A handful admitted to occasionally taking the bus to go to Atlanta Braves games.

“I don’t think they could relate to what I was going through,’’ Nelson said. “All stated that they’ve never ridden public transportation and they’ve never really been in my shoes, so I think there was maybe not a jury of my peers.’’

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