Mother Reunited With Sons After Stint in Jail
Sunday, November 25, 2007
A Charlottesville mother who was sentenced to 27 months in jail for serving teenagers beer and wine coolers at her son's 16th birthday party was reunited with her two boys in time for last week's holiday after what she called five harrowing months behind bars.
"Thanksgiving dinner never tasted so good," Elisa Kelly, 43, said in a telephone interview yesterday from a relative's home in Charlottesville. "I am just so very grateful to be out of jail."
Kelly and her ex-husband, George Robinson, were originally sentenced to eight years for misdemeanors related to the backyard party they threw in 2002 at their home near Charlottesville.
The couple, married at the time of the party, each pleaded guilty to nine counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, although they said they confiscated car keys at the beginning of the party and nobody was hurt.
Their sentences were reduced to 27 months, and they went to jail in June. They were released on parole Monday. Robinson, who has remarried, is not in contact with his stepsons and has kept a low public profile.
The case became a cautionary tale for parents who allow underage drinking in their homes under the belief that it is better to let kids drink while supervised than for them to be drinking elsewhere and out on the roads.
Even during a time of general concern about youth drinking and drunken driving, the case stood out. Police and prosecutors said that parents are rarely held responsible in criminal or civil courts for allowing teenagers to gather at their homes and drink alcohol, in large part because it is difficult to prove that the adults provided the alcohol or condoned its use.
Kelly, a stay-at-home mother who coached her sons' sports teams, said that her son Ryan had asked her to host his 16th birthday party and that she agreed to supply alcohol on the condition that guests hand over their keys. Court records show she spent $340 on alcohol.
Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney James L. Camblos III, who prosecuted the parents, called it the worst case of underage drinking he had dealt with in 15 years. Yesterday, however, he said that Kelly and Robinson had served more time "than I thought was appropriate or necessary."
Camblos had recommended a 90-day sentence, but a Charlottesville judge sentenced the parents to eight years. Camblos (R), who made curbing underage drinking a campaign theme, lost his bid for reelection this month and will leave office in January.
Kelly, who had no previous record, not even a traffic violation, repeated earlier assertions that the sentence was "extremely unfair." She added: "Regardless of the 'what ifs, what ifs' that everyone keeps talking about, you still have to base it on the facts. Nothing happened."
Kelly said she initially was held in a cell with 15 other prisoners but was moved to solitary detention after she received two death threats. "The other prisoners, who didn't think they should be there, either, didn't like the attention I was getting," she said.
The case received national and international media attention because of its rarity and the perceived harshness of the sentence.
During more than a month in solitary protective custody, she said, "I wanted to blow my head off." Afterward, she entered a program that allowed her to work a few days a week as a waitress at a Waffle House.
Her sons, Ryan, 21, and Brandon, 17, were banned from seeing her at the restaurant but visited her in jail. Each time, she said, there were "a lot of tears and upsetness." She said that Ryan, who dropped out of high school after the incident, suffered crushing guilt over her imprisonment.
Kelly said that after Brandon finishes high school, she plans to leave Virginia. She said she will never again serve alcohol to underage drinkers at a party. "That was a once-in-a-lifetime thing."
Asked whether she learned anything from incarceration, she said: "The main thing I learned was to never, ever take anything for granted. It's a privilege to be able to look up at the sky, hug my kids, help them with homework, all those normal things. You don't realize how good all those things are until they're taken away from you."