ATLANTA – A woman convicted of vehicular homicide after her 4-year-old son was struck and killed by a van as they jaywalked across a busy Atlanta-area street said on Thursday she accepted a judge's offer to have her case retried.
Raquel Nelson, 30, said she was taking Judge Kathryn Tanksley up on the unusual offer of a new trial after a jury in suburban Cobb County convicted her in July of vehicular homicide and other charges for not using a crosswalk.
The judge sentenced Nelson last week to a year of probation, sparing her the three-year prison sentence she could have received for the charges.
A new trial could wipe out the probation sentence, but it could also mean enduring an emotional new proceeding that could end with an even tougher penalty. Nelson, though, told NBC's "Today" show she was willing to take the risk.
"Going through things like this makes you a heck of a lot tougher," Nelson said.
Nelson's attorney, Steve Sadow, said in an email he took the case pro bono because her prosecution is "both morally wrong and unjustified." But he said there's no reason for his client to return to court and called on Cobb County Solicitor General Barry Morgan to dismiss the case.
Morgan declined to comment on the case, which is still scheduled for trial on Oct. 25.
The accident happened in April 2010 after Nelson and her three children had just exited at a bus stop along a five-lane street after a long day. She was eager to return to her apartment complex across the street because it was getting dark, and she led her children to a median instead of walking to a crosswalk three-tenths of a mile away, according to court records.
Her daughter then darted safely across the street, but A.J. was struck and killed by the van when he followed. Nelson chased after them and was also struck and injured.
The van's driver, Jerry Guy, pleaded guilty to hit-and-run and was sentenced to six months in prison. According to court records, he had been drinking earlier in the day while taking pain medication, was partially blind in one eye, and had two previous hit-and-run convictions from 1997.
Prosecutors said they had little choice but to charge Nelson in her son's death. But the case sparked outrage from activists who flooded the judge's office with letters, held a rally in metro Atlanta and organized an online petition campaign that attracted more than 125,000 signatures.
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