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Video: Jaywalking mom will seek new trial

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    ANN CURRY, co-host: Back now at 8:10 with a difficult decision faced by a Georgia mother convicted after her four-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver. At her

    sentencing the judge gave Raquel Nelson a choice: probation or a new trial. In a moment she will reveal her decision in an exclusive live interview. But first, Tamron Hall has more on her story. Hey, Tamron.

    TAMRON HALL reporting: Hey, Ann , good morning. There are a few things harder for a parent to overcome than the death of a child. But for Nelson , her son's death has been complicated by the legal battle she's had to face, or fight in its aftermath.

    Unidentified Judge: If you would stand in court we will now impose sentence.

    HALL: Raquel Nelson was sentenced for the car accident that took her son A.J. 's life though she wasn't even in the car.

    Judge: You are found guilty by a jury of all three counts...

    HALL: A single mother of three, Nelson and her family were trying to cross this highway in Marietta , Georgia , when A.J. was struck and killed by a van. The driver of the vehicle, Jerry Guy , had been drinking earlier in the day and taking pain medication. Already twice convicted of hit-and-run in other cases, Guy pleaded guilty to the charge a third time in this one. For A.J. 's death, Guy was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation.

    Judge: The general conditions provide that you do not...

    HALL: In a surprising move, the DA also charged Nelson with second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct, and jaywalking. She was convicted earlier this summer. The grieving mother was looking at possible 36 months in prison, six times longer than the driver who killed her son. She told her story here on TODAY. Ms. RAQUEL NELSON ( Mother Charged in Jaywalking Accident That Killed Her Son ): I think to come after me so much harder than they did him, like I say, it's a slap in the face .

    HALL: Nelson 's case opened the flood gates to online outrage. Over 140,000 people petitioned for leniency in her sentencing. And she got it from the

    judge, who offered her an unusual choice: six months of probation and community service or a new trial.

    Ms. NELSON: Just the fact that the judge was able to exercise such leniency in the situation, it gave me a hope, you know, that maybe the justice system may not fail.

    HALL: Since the judge's ruling, Nelson has had the last week to make the decision whether or not to proceed with a new trial or accept the sentence.

    Ann: All right, Tamron , thank you so much . Raquel Nelson is now joining us once again exclusively along with her aunt, Loretta Williams , and Raquel 's new attorney, Steve Sadow , is also joining us this morning from Atlanta . Good morning to all of you.

    CURRY: Good morning.

    Ms. NELSON: Good morning.

    Ms. LORETTTA WILLIAMS: Raquel , first...

    CURRY: Good morning.

    Mr. STEVE SADOW: ... Raquel , first you. Good morning to you, again, Steve . Tough decision . Choosing probation means that all of this is over, behind you. Choosing a new trial brings a lot of emotional risks and legal risks. What is your decision ?

    CURRY: Well, I have decided to go along with a new trial.

    Ms. NELSON: And why is that?

    CURRY: As far as what you said about the emotional risk and the legal risk vs. just letting it be over, as I mentioned before, going through things like this makes you a heck of a lot tougher and by all means, you know, you don't want to wake up in the morning with that hanging over your head. It's bad enough to wake up in the morning knowing that you're minus one of your children.

    Ms. NELSON: Hm.

    CURRY: And that you'll never see them again. And to have the conviction hanging there also, it's -- that will be, I think, a little bit more emotional in the long run because it has been right now and that's going to stay forever along with the fact that he's gone.

    Ms. NELSON: But to make that decision you have to have some faith that if in fact the justice system mistreated you last time that it won't again.

    CURRY: That's a risk I'm willing to take. It's a risk I'm willing to take. Just with the -- this whole process being very lonely up until about the last three weeks when it became much more public, that's helped a tremendous amount just to have just the outpouring of support from, you know, you guys and everyone else in America and across the world. So that's helped to keep me up throughout this whole thing.

    Ms. NELSON: Steve , you've now come aboard to defend Raquel . Will you be doing anything differently in this case than the prior attorney for Raquel ? Mr. Well, I expect to be doing a lot of things different . First of all, Ms. Nelson is not criminally responsible for what took place. What took place was a tragic accident and I think that needs to be better explained to the jury. I think the circumstances under which she was crossing the roadway, the safe way that she was trying to do it, the fact that her child darted out from her, all of that was not made clear enough and I don't think it was made known to the jury that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a criminal act. It's not enough for it simply to have been an accident. I think that I'm looking forward hopingly persuade them in that direction.

    CURRY: Mm-hmm. Loretta , you've stood by your niece all throughout this entire process. What are your emotions hearing her say that she's now going to stand up and fight ?

    CURRY: It's hard to have to see her go through this again, but at the same token I know that she's a strong young lady and that she'll be able to weather through this. And she really needs the opportunity to clear her name totally. And I 'm hoping that that's what happens. So as a family, we're going to stand behind her decision and hopefully she can get the justice that she deserves.

    Ms. WILLIAMS: Do you see yourself as standing up for yourself alone, Raquel , or are you standing up for other women who are single mothers , other women who are having the -- carrying the burden of raising children, using public transportation , all of that that you talked about in our first interview?

    CURRY: This is for everyone. This is for, on a more personal level, myself, my children, single mothers , anybody who has to take public transportation . This is for anyone who has ever had been in a scary situation like that.

    Ms. NELSON: Hm . Raquel Nelson , I'm sure we're going to hear from you again. Thanks so much for making the trip again to come see us this morning.

    CURRY: Thank you for having me. I appreciate you.

    Ms. NELSON: And, Loretta , a pleasure. Thank you so much .

    CURRY: Thank you, Ann.

    Ms. WILLIAMS: Steve Sadow , thank you so much for joining us this morning as well. And we look forward to talking to you some more.

    CURRY:

By
TODAY contributor
updated 8/4/2011 9:06:45 AM ET 2011-08-04T13:06:45

Raquel Nelson is going to fight to clear her name.

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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, announced Thursday in an exclusive interview on TODAY that she is opting for a new trial over probation and community service.

“This is for everyone,’’ she told Ann Curry about her decision to fight to wipe her record clean. “This is for, on a more personal level, myself, my children, single mothers, anybody who has to take public transportation, [and] this is for anyone who ever had to be in a scary situation like that.’’

On July 26, Nelson, 30, was sentenced to 40 hours of community service and 12 months probation in Cobb County State Court. But in an unusual decision by judge Kathryn Tanksley, she was also given the option of a new trial.

Nelson has decided to pursue the latter in order to clear herself of all the charges. The hope is that the prosecution will decide to drop the case rather than retry the single mom, who was controversially convicted by a jury on July 12 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.

Hoping to clear her name
“She really needs the opportunity to clear her name totally, and I'm hoping that that's what happens,’’ said Nelson’s aunt, Loretta Williams, who appeared alongside her on Thursday. “As a family, we're going to stand behind her decision, and hopefully she can get the justice that she deserves.’’

Even though she could have taken the probation and community service and ended what has become a public ordeal, Nelson decided she does not want a conviction haunting her along with the death of her son. “That [conviction] is going to stay forever along with the fact that he's gone,’’ she said.

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In the immediate aftermath of her sentencing, Nelson was hesitant about the new trial option. On TODAY last week she said “there's a part of me that doesn't want to go through this again.’’

Story: Mom ‘thankful’ for no jail in son’s jaywalking death

Moreover, by agreeing to a new trial, Nelson has also put her faith in a justice system that rendered the controversial verdict the first time around. She said the support of others has strengthened her.

“Going through things like this makes you a heck of a lot tougher,’’ Nelson said. “By all means, you don't want to wake up in the morning with that [conviction] hanging over your head. It's bad enough to wake up every morning knowing that you're minus one of your children and that you'll never see them again.’’

Calculated risk
Still, if the case does go to trial, Nelson will again have to deal with the emotions of the loss of her son, plus the threat of possibly being convicted a second time.

“That's a risk I'm willing to take,’’ she told Curry Thursday. “With this whole process being very lonely up until about the last three weeks, when it became much more public — that's helped a tremendous amount, just to have the outpouring of support from you guys and everyone else in America and across the world. That's helped keep me up throughout this whole thing.’’

Video: Watch Raquel Nelson speak out on TODAY (on this page)

Nelson also has changed attorneys, retaining Steve Sadow, who has taken the case pro bono because of what he feels is its unjust nature. Sadow, who joined the interview from Atlanta, is best known for representing Clifford Harris, the rapper better known as T.I., on illegal gun charges in 2008.

“I expect to be doing a lot of things different,’’ Sadow told Curry live from Atlanta. “First of all, Miss Nelson is not criminally responsible for what took place. What took place was a tragic accident, and I think that needs to be better explained to the jury. I think the circumstances under which she was crossing the roadway, the safe way that she was trying to do it, the fact that her child darted out from her — all of that was not made clear enough.

“I don't think it was made known to the jury that the prosecution has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a criminal act. It's not enough for it to simply have been an accident.’’

Tragic walk
Nelson’s saga has received national attention from talk-radio hosts, the online community, parents, the NAACP, and transportation advocates. Her ordeal began last year when 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. After they reached the median, her young son pulled away from Nelson to follow his sister, who had made it to the other side of the street.

Image: 4-year-old A.J. Nelson, killed by a hit-and-run driver
TODAY
Four-year-old A.J. Nelson was killed by a hit-and-run driver while crossing a busy Atlanta street with his mother outside a crosswalk.

Jerry Guy struck members of the family with his van as they were crossing, killing 4-year-old A.J. Nelson in the process. 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.

Story: Mom faces jail after son, 4, died jaywalking with her

Guy served a six-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to hit-and-run in the accident that killed A.J. Nelson and was released on Oct. 29. He is currently serving five years of probation.

Nelson potentially could have been sentenced to up to 36 months in prison after her conviction, but assistant Cobb County solicitor AnnaMarie Baltz told a judge last week that the prosecution never intended to seek jail time. Tanksley gave Nelson the rare option of serving the probation and community service or taking her chances again in a trial.

Nelson’s case provoked strong reaction across the nation, including an online petition signed by more than 140,000 people in less than 48 hours pleading for her not to receive jail time to proclamations by the NAACP and transportation advocates.

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

At her sentencing, her 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.

The NAACP declared the case a “grave miscarriage of justice when the mother who is still grieving is forced to fight harder for her freedom than the man who killed her son.’’

Transportation advocates expressed their disappointment at the fact that the nearest crosswalk to the bus stop near Nelson’s apartment was three-tenths of a mile away. Transportation for America communications director David Goldberg addressed it on his blog.

Video: Jaywalking mom will seek new trial (on this page)

“Because she did as her fellow bus riders, who crossed at the same time and same place, and because she did what pedestrians will do every time — take the shortest reasonable path — she is guilty of vehicular homicide,’’ Goldberg wrote.

Nelson also felt that the jury in her initial trial could not really relate to her situation, potentially affecting the verdict. During jury questioning for Nelson’s first 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 told TODAY in an earlier appearance. “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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