The impaired hit-and-run driver who struck and killed her son on a metro Atlanta road in 2010 has been released from prison by now, but Raquel Nelson is still being prosecuted for her purported role in the tragedy.
The single mother of three was injured trying to prevent the collision that killed four-year-old A.J. Newman. That didn’t stop an all white jury from convicting the African-American woman of vehicular homicide last year. Prosecutors brought charges on the grounds that Nelson and her children were not in a crosswalk, though the suburban arterial that separated her apartment complex from a bus stop had no crossing nearby.
Nelson faced three years, while driver Jerry Guy, who has glaucoma and admitted to drinking and taking pain killers before the crash, was sentenced to just six months. After the trial attracted national media attention, a Cobb County judge offered Nelson a reduced sentence of one-year probation or a retrial.
Wanting to clear her name, Nelson chose a retrial. She has since teamed up with high-profile Atlanta defense lawyer Steve Sadow, who took on the case pro bono. Sadow asked an appellate court to throw out the conviction for lack of evidence. But late last month the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the decision, according to legal website Law.com. “[We] conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the jury’s guilty verdict,” wrote Judges Charles B. Mikell, M. Yvette Miller and William M. Ray II.
The court cited a state law which “says that any person who causes the death of another, without an intention to do so, by violating traffic laws commits the offense of homicide by vehicle in the second degree,” according to Law.com. Sadow argued that the driver of the vehicle, not Nelson, caused A.J.’s death.
“While we have the greatest sympathy for [Nelson's] plight, this court must interpret the law and apply it with an even hand; the appellate process affords us no latitude to make adjustments for the ill-earned good fortune of the lucky, or as in this case, the heart-rending misfortune of the unlucky,” the judges said.
Cobb County Solicitor General Barry Morgan has said he will continue to prosecute Nelson. In a brief filed with the Court of Appeals, Morgan wrote: ”When a pedestrian chooses to cross a divided highway … outside the protection of a crosswalk, she risks her own safety [as] well as the safety of those with her.”
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the case will likely end up before the Georgia Supreme Court.