Raquel Nelson, the Georgia woman who faced vehicular homicide charges last year when her four-year-old son was killed by a hit-and-run driver, is back in court this week, appealing the results of her trial.
Nelson is asking a Georgia appeals court to dismiss charges of vehicular manslaughter and jaywalking rather than proceed with the retrial granted by a Cobb County judge in October. She is being represented on a pro-bono basis by high-profile Atlanta-based attorney Steve Sadow, whose former clients include rapper T.I. and Howard K. Stern, boyfriend of Anna Nicole Smith. Sadow agreed to take the case after learning of it through the media, saying, “I believe that her prosecution was an injustice.”
It seems even the prosecutors may agree with him. They declined to make an argument at the hearing Tuesday, a surprising move that may indicate that they’re not all that interested anymore in trying to put Nelson in prison. At the end of Nelson’s trial last summer, the judge made a similarly unusual move in offering a new trial before Nelson’s lawyer even had to ask. Experts speculated that she may have had regrets about the way she’d conducted the trial that may have led to the harsh verdict.
The case attracted national attention last summer for what was widely viewed as overzealous prosecution. The mother of three — who was also injured trying to prevent the collision that killed her son — faced three years in prison. Prosecutors based the charges against Nelson on the premise that she was partly responsible for the death because she was jaywalking. Meanwhile, driver Jerry Guy was sentenced to just six months in prison despite two prior hit-and-run convictions and his admission that he was drinking and under the influence of prescription drugs the day of the crash.
The case also focused attention on the perilous conditions for pedestrians in suburban Atlanta. The street Nelson was attempting to cross is a five-lane high-speed arterial. The closest crosswalk was a half-mile in either direction, which many argued was an unreasonable distance to expect pedestrians to travel to cross a road.
Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide, reckless endangerment and jaywalking by an all-white jury last July. In the wake of nationwide outrage, she was granted her choice of a retrial or one year probation. She opted for retrial.
Sadow said the appeal is based on the claim that there was insufficient evidence to charge Nelson last year. He said he expects a decision by July. If they lose the case, Sadow has said he will represent Nelson at retrial.