By Cyril Josh Barker, Special to the NNPA from the New York Amsterdam News –
A Black Georgia mother is breathing a sigh of relief after hearing the news that she will not face any jail time for the death of her 4-year-old son. Raquel Nelson, of Marietta, Ga., was previously facing three years in prison after a drunk driver killed her son in a hit-and-run while she was jaywalking in 2010.
The case involving the single mother was highly criticized because Nelson was looking at more jail time than the man who killed her son in the hit-and-run. A judge sentenced Nelson to 40 hours of community service and one year of probation. She also has the option of getting a new trial.
In 2010, Nelson tragically lost her son, A.J., at the hands of Jerry Guy, the driver. Nelson had just gotten off a public bus and jaywalked across a four-lane highway with her son and two other children to reach her home.
Reports indicate Guy had two prior hit-and-run convictions, was intoxicated at the time of the incident and is partially blind in one eye. He served six months in jail and is currently serving five years probation after pleading guilty. Nelson was facing 36 months in prison after being convicted in July of second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct and jaywalking.
Speaking on NBC's "Today," Nelson said the reason why she didn't use the crosswalk was because she was in a hurry to get home before it got dark. She said she is still trying to heal following the death of her son.
"I think to come after me so much harder than they did him, I say it's a slap in the face," she said," she said. "This will never end for me."
Heavy criticism was especially large from the Black community in Marietta because of the all-white, middle-class jury that convicted Nelson. Many said that the trial was unfair considering that several jurors said they had never previously even taken public transportation.
"I don't think they could relate to what I was going through. I think that there was a lot of evidence that wasn’t - I can't say allowed to be presented, but it all went very fast, and...all of the jurors, they've all said they've never ridden public transportation and they've never really been in my shoes. So I think it was maybe not a jury of peers, if that's what the statement is," Nelson said.
Support for Nelson was also big on the Internet, where numerous people posted videos on YouTube supporting her. A Facebook page called "Help Raquel Nelson" has also been set up. On the websitechange.org, more than 140,000 signatures were received in 48 hours asking that she get no jail time.
At her hearing, the judge was presented with several emails and letters from local citizens, Nelson's father and boss and fellow students at the community college where she is taking classes.
She now has 30 days to decide if she wants a new trial to clear her name. David Savoy, Nelson's attorney, said that he's never seen anything like this happen before, and that he and his client are taking a look at their options.
"I was very pleased with the decision and I think she [the judge] made the right decision," he said.