Raquel Nelson will face sentencing Tuesday with the support not only dozens of people in the courtroom, but thousands across the Internet who know the Marietta mother only by her story.
Nelson when a Cobb County State Court judge sentences her for three misdemeanors—second-degree vehicular homicide, reckless conduct and crossing a roadway elsewhere than a crosswalk—in the death of her 4-year-old son, A.J., who was killed by a hit-and-run driver April 10, 2010, while trying to cross busy Austell Road between a bus stop and their apartment complex.
Such a long sentence would be unusual for misdemeanors, but the mere possibility that Nelson could serve more time behind bars than Jerry Guy, who drove the car that killed her son, has sparked growing outrage online. Under a plea deal, Guy received a five-year sentence and was released Oct. 29 after serving six months.
The story has grown from initial shock that a pedestrian could be convicted of vehicular homicide in her child’s death, to anger at pedestrian-unfriendly suburban sprawl, to disgust at government’s failure to account for the needs of the poor, to criticism that Nelson was not judged by her peers and suggestions that race played a factor.
Nelson, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury whose members said they did not ride the bus except to reach an occasional Braves game at Turner Field.
“I don’t think they could relate to what I was going through,” , because they didn’t use public transit and weren’t single mothers. “They’ve never really been in my shoes.”
Supporters from civil rights groups such as the Cobb County NAACP turned out Friday to rally for Nelson and are expected to appear en masse Tuesday for the sentencing before State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley in Courtroom 3A.
This change.org petition had drawn more than 83,000 signatures as of 3 p.m. Monday. A second petition, with a goal of 10,000 signatures before the sentencing, had slightly fewer than 6,000 at 3 p.m. Monday.
Search Twitter for “Raquel Nelson” or “#raquelnelson” to see comments such as:
- “I encourage ALL of my followers to go to change.org and sign the petition in support of Raquel Nelson.”—AshleeDenise
- “if casey anthony ran away with murder, raquel nelson should WALK home."—sterndal
- “#raquelnelson needs #lindseylohans lawyer she got off without serving time.”—MOELDESIGNS
- “#RaquelNelson should NOT have to stand trial for "jaywalking" > http://on.today.com/qn9IEA what do you think? @todayshow.” —ABaumann
Below are further examples of responses to the Nelson case. Usually the reader comments are at least as interesting as the post itself:
- Jess Zimmerman at grist.org, July 15, “Mom Who Lost Son in Hit-and-Run Could Face More Jail Time than Driver.”
- The Anderson, SC, Independent Mail, July 17, “Justice Not Always Fair.”
- Erik Kain at Forbes, July 18, “Woman Convicted of Homicide After Drunk Driver Kills Her Child.”
- Danielle Wright at BET, July 19, “After Child Is Killed Jaywalking with Mother, Should She Go to Jail?”
- Lloyd Alter at Treehugger, July 19, “Mom Charged with Vehicular Homicide for Crossing Street After Kid Killed by Hit-and-Run.”
- Eric Jaffe at The Infrastructurist, July 21, “The Lonesome Death of a Child Pedestrian.”
- Ken Edelstein at Green Building Chronicle, July 21, “Cobb Prosecution of Grieving Mother Becomes Rallying Cry for Pedestrian Safety.”
- Jess Leber at change.org, July 22, “Justice for a Grieving Mom: Install a Crosswalk, Don’t Send Raquel Nelson to Jail.”
- Tanya Snyder at D.C. Streets Blog, July 22, “The Streets and the Courts Failed Raquel Nelson. Can Advocacy Save Her?”
- Keri at Commute Orlando, July 22, “Release Raquel Nelson and Install a Crosswalk!”
- Vincent Iannelli at about.com, July 23, “When Is an Accident a Crime? When Should Parents Be Charged?”
- Chris Turner at the Mother Nature Network, July 25, “How Bad Pedestrian Infrastructure Can Turn Deadly.”