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Party Host Mom Set for Va. Jail Term

Brandon, left, and Ryan Kenty will drive their mother, Elisa Kelly, to jail Monday, when she is to start a 27-month sentence for providing alcohol at Ryan's 16th birthday party in 2002.
Brandon, left, and Ryan Kenty will drive their mother, Elisa Kelly, to jail Monday, when she is to start a 27-month sentence for providing alcohol at Ryan's 16th birthday party in 2002.

"I made a big mistake. I know that," Kelly, a stay-at-home mother, said this week. "I am so sorry." Her son Ryan was so distraught that he dropped out of school and wants to serve her sentence for her.

Kelly said she believed the kids were going to drink regardless. She reasoned that supplying the alcohol and keeping them home would be safer than having them out drinking and driving. Court records show she spent $340 on beer and wine for the party that night. She said she made a deal with her son that no one could leave.

Kelly called the punishment harsh, excessive and politically motivated. "I'm not a hardened criminal," said the woman, who does not have a criminal record, not even a parking infraction. "I'm just a mom."

Camblos, who has made curbing underage drinking part of this year's reelection campaign, denied any political motivation. "Politics had nothing to do with it. I've seen too many photographs of teenagers being killed in car wrecks because of drinking and driving."

Camblos said there was "some suggestion by Mrs. Robinson that several kids could gargle with vinegar to hide the alcohol." Kelly, who changed her name after her divorce, denies it.

The couple pleaded guilty in Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, and Camblos recommended a 90-day sentence at the time. But the judge, angry about the recent death of one of Ryan's classmates at Albemarle High School in an alcohol-related crash, sentenced them to eight years.

The couple appealed to Circuit Court, which reduced the sentence to 27 months. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld that decision in January, rejecting defense claims of an illegal search of the couple's property. The defense tried to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court as a violation of the couple's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

"All their appeals are done now, and it's time they start serving their sentences," Camblos said.

Kelly said the almost five-year "nightmare mess" has been very hard on her elder son. She said Ryan is shouldering deep guilt about his sports-coaching mother, whom he calls the "best mom in the world," having to serve time for something he's still convinced was his fault.

"He's bawled his eyes out over it," she said. "I keep telling him, 'I was the adult. I made the mistake, and it's not your fault.' "

"I wish I could go to jail for her," he said this week, his eyes welling up. If he could, he'd swap places with his mom, who has a "heart of gold," in a minute.

Kelly said she's "scared" to go to the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, where each of her sons will be able to visit her only once a month for 15 minutes at a time, and worried about how her sons will fare without her. "I'm going to miss the end of Brandon's high school," she said of her 16-year-old son, choking back tears.

After the incident, Ryan dropped out of high school, where he was an athlete and a member of the school's basketball team, saying he couldn't take the constant attention. He shelved plans to attend college and now works full time at UPS. The brothers will live nearby with their father, Marc Kenty, until their mother is released.

"You'll see, Mom, I'm going to have a house for us by the time you get out," he said last week after helping her move some of her stuff to storage. "And I'm going to take good care of Brandon."

"Not one minute of guilt, though, right?" Kelly asked her son, her arm draped affectionately on his big shoulder. "Like we've talked about."

He answered, looking down, "Okay, Mom, okay."

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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