If Jessica Hall was tough on the day she threw a McDonald's cup at another motorist in stalled Interstate 95 traffic, a felony conviction, seven weeks in jail and a nationally noticed delay in her release changed that.
The mother of three walked out of the Rappahannock Regional Jail yesterday, crying and hugging her children with tight don't-want-to-let-go embraces. Her eyes searched through the hoard of television cameras as she called for her father: "Daddy? Where's Daddy? Daddy, give me a hug, please." She seemed small.
"I've become a big sissy in there," Hall said, standing in front of the Stafford County jail. "If somebody screams at me, I'll probably cry."
It was a much different image than the anger-filled one that grew out of Hall's arrest.
Hall, 25, of Jacksonville, N.C., was convicted Jan. 4 of maliciously throwing a missile into an occupied vehicle, a felony. She did not deny throwing the cup, but she said she threw it in frustration at a car that had cut in front of her twice on her way to New York. No one was injured, but the jury sentenced Hall to two years in prison.
In what is now known as the "McMissile" case, Hall became the object of sympathy, with some people saying that race and socioeconomic status played a role. And the case became the butt of jokes: At least one cartoon showed Hall with the "Hamburglar" as a cellmate. Many people considered the sentence too severe, including the woman who was splashed with most of the cup's contents.
For Hall's family, it was one aggravation after another.
"Everyone's frustrated and tired," Hall's mother, Felicia Hall, said yesterday. She and other relatives were wearing the same clothes they had on the day before because they had expected to take Hall home Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, Judge Frank Hoss Jr. suspended Hall's sentence on the condition of five years' good behavior, and she was supposed to go home that afternoon. But just as she was about to be released, an out-of-state warrant for her arrest popped up during a record check, jail officials said.
Hall was wanted in Hernando, Miss., for writing four bad checks totaling about $350 at a Wal-Mart in July 2005, jail officials said. With costs factored in, she owed $833.49. DeSoto County authorities said yesterday that writing a bad check for more than $100 is a felony.
Hall said her wallet with her driver's license and checks had been stolen in nearby Memphis, and a police report confirmed her story, jail officials said. Still, she was not allowed to leave that night and faced extradition to Mississippi unless the family paid the fine.
Hall's father, Jesse Hall, sent a cashier's check via FedEx overnight, and yesterday he and other relatives waited -- along with representatives of about a dozen media outlets -- for word that it had cleared and that Hall was free to go. She had not decided whether to appeal.
"It's an injustice," Jesse Hall said of the felony conviction. "I just can't get it. I just don't understand. Something so minor, and it just grew."
Almost everything that could go wrong, he said, did; even the battery in the family truck died minutes before his daughter was to be released.
"The devil be working," said Kimberly Jenkins-Snodgrass, who is with a group that works for the rights of people accused of crimes, as Hall's father stood over the open hood.
Jesse Hall shot back, "Oh, don't give him no credit."
Snodgrass said the case showed how "when you handcuff an individual, you handcuff the whole family."
As soon as the jail door marked "RELEASE" opened yesterday, Jessica Hall walked out to a chorus of "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy."
Hall's husband, a Marine, wasn't there to greet her; he is serving in Iraq.
With her youngest clinging to her leg, she spoke about how the experience had been a lesson for her and should be for others who might lose their tempers on the road. She lost weight -- several sizes -- and hair from the stress. Any desire she once had to drive is also gone.
"I'm not driving anywhere," she said climbing into the back seat of the truck. "I'm ready to go."
But not to McDonald's. Hall said, "Burger King's my favorite anyway."