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Mom spared jail time after driver hits, kills boy

By the CNN Wire Staff
Raquel Nelson saw her son, A.J., die after being hit by a driver. Charges against her attracted national attention.
Raquel Nelson saw her son, A.J., die after being hit by a driver. Charges against her attracted national attention.
  • Mother's attorney: She blames herself and has suffered enough
  • Supporters of a Georgia mother charged in her son's death applaud her sentence
  • Raquel Nelson will not go to jail for the death of her 4-year-old son, who darted into traffic
  • Transportation advocates and the NAACP called the case an outrage
  • Cobb County
  • Georgia
  • Crime and Law

Check out CNN affiliate WXIA-TV in Atlanta for the latest information on the case.

Marietta, Georgia (CNN) -- A Georgia woman who was convicted on misdemeanor charges in the death of her son who darted out into traffic will not spend time in jail, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The case of Raquel Nelson had attracted national notice from parents, the NAACP and even transportation advocates who said the Marietta woman was being unfairly pursued for just trying to cross the street as any other pedestrian would do.

Dozens of the suburban Atlanta woman's supporters crowded the courtroom Tuesday and applauded as Judge Kathryn Tanksley sentenced her to 12 months of probation and 40 hours of community service.

She also said Nelson could seek a new trial.

"I'm walking out of here," Nelson told reporters after her sentencing. "I don't think you could be more satisfied."

Defense attorney David Savoy said his client is weighing her options, but would mostly likely seek a new trial.

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Mom unfairly charged in son's death?

Nelson and her three children had just gotten off the bus at a stop across from their apartment building in April 2010 when her 4-year-old son, A.J., broke away from her and ran into the street.

A car struck the boy, causing fatal injuries. Nelson and one of her two daughters also suffered minor injuries.

Five weeks after the accident, investigators came to Nelson's home, said her aunt, Loretta Williams. Nelson was charged with three misdemeanors: second-degree vehicular homicide, failing to cross at a crosswalk and reckless conduct, according to court records.

A jury convicted her this month. Although prosecutors did not recommend jail time, each count carried a potential sentence of one year in jail -- for a total of 36 months.

The man driving the car, Jerry Guy, fled the scene after the accident but later admitted being involved, according to CNN affiliate WXIA-TV. He was sentenced to five years in prison but served only six months. He is serving the remainder of the sentence on probation.

During the hearing, Savoy asked for mercy, saying his client had suffered enough.

"Don't think for one moment that this mother of three doesn't blame herself for what happened," he said.

But, he said, the white stripes of a crosswalk are not "impenetrable walls of steel" that could have prevented a driver from striking someone crossing the street. Such accidents happen every day, he said.

Assistant Solicitor General Jessica Moss said her office would accept whatever sentence the court suggested.

"These cases are inherently difficult because they are unintentional," she said during the hearing.

Nelson told NBC's "Today" on Monday that the jury that convicted her likely couldn't relate to her because she is a single mother and they don't regularly use public transportation or need to walk on busy streets.

The case became a cause for radio talk show hosts, the NAACP and even transportation advocates, who said Nelson is being punished because she chose to cross the road at the bus stop across from her apartment instead of traveling to the nearest crosswalk, three-tenths of a mile away.

"Your office's decision to prosecute Raquel Nelson for the death of her four-year-old son on a vehicular homicide charge is disgusting and inhumane," wrote one poster to the Facebook page of the Cobb County Solicitor General's Office, which handled the case.

More than 135,000 people signed an online petition calling for leniency.

The NAACP had called the case against Nelson a "grave miscarriage of justice when the mother who is still grieving is forced to fight harder for her freedom than the man who killed her son."

The case also attracted attention from transportation advocates, who said Nelson was treated unfairly because transportation planners fail to take into account the needs of pedestrians when designing roads.

"Because she did as her fellow bus riders, who crossed at the same time and same place, and because she did what pedestrians will do every time -- take the shortest reasonable path -- she is guilty of vehicular homicide," Transportation for America communications director David Goldberg wrote on the advocacy organization's blog.

CNN's Tristan Smith contributed to this report.