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Posted at 01:33 PM ET, 07/26/2011

In Georgia hit-and-run case, injustice toward a grieving mother

“It’s a slap in the face,” said Raquel Nelson.

More like three: Nelson was convicted of failure to use a crosswalk, reckless conduct and second-degree vehicular homicide. On Tuesday, she stood in court, initially facing the possibility of 36 months in jail.

For what? Attempting to usher her children across a busy highway late at night instead of dragging them three-tenths of a mile away to a crosswalk. For watching her 4-year-old son, A.J., get run down by a drunk driver’s speeding car. The driver, Jerry L. Guy, served six months.

Nelson’s conviction shows an absurd incongruity in the justice system. A woman with no prior offenses faced more jail time than was served by a man who had already been convicted of two hit-and-runs, a man who admitted to consuming “a little” alcohol along with some pain medication before hitting the road on the day he killed a child.

Yes, Nelson made a mistake — with tragic consequences. But she wasn’t a horribly negligent mother who needed to be whipped into shape. Punishment should be reserved for Guy, who has a history of dangerous, deadly behavior.

For one thing, Nelson didn’t cross the road alone. Other pedestrians did just the same. Understandably, too — the nearest crosswalk was almost half a mile away. After experiencing the fatal consequences of her decision, however, I doubt Nelson plans on joining them next time around.

Thankfully, Judge Kathryn J. Tanksley seemed to see the light. Instead of jail time, Tanksley gave Nelson a choice of 12 months probation or a new trial. That’s better than throwing Nelson behind bars, but it’s not ideal. Now, Nelson either has to make her way through life with a conviction on her record or put herself through a painful trial a second time.

Still, Tanksley’s judgment was probably the kindest and most reasonable she could have made given the circumstances. Nelson had already been indicted and convicted. It wasn’t within Tanksley’s power to acquit her.

But why was Nelson prosecuted in the first place? Why was she convicted? If Nelson seeks another trial, the jury should find her not guilty. And, instead of seeking some twisted sort of payback, officials in Cobb County, Ga., where the accident took place, would do well to amp up safety precautions in the area. They could start by building a crosswalk closer to Nelson’s bus stop. That would cost no more than paying for her trials. It might also save a life or two.

By Molly Roberts  |  01:33 PM ET, 07/26/2011

 
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