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Mom granted new trial in death of son struck by driver

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.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Raquel Nelson's trial is set for October 25
  • Nelson was prosecuted after a driver struck and killed her son
  • She potentially had faced more jail time than the driver

(CNN) -- A Georgia woman convicted on misdemeanor charges in the death of her son after he darted out into traffic will receive a new trial, a judge ruled.

Raquel Nelson's trial is set to begin October 25, according to an order filed by Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley on Tuesday.

Nelson's case had attracted national attention from parents, the NAACP and transportation advocates, who said Nelson, from the Atlanta suburb of Marietta, was being unfairly prosecuted 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.

In April 2010, Nelson and her three children had just gotten off the bus across from their apartment building 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.

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RELATED TOPICS
  • Cobb County
  • Georgia
  • Crime and Law
  • NAACP

She potentially faced more jail time than the man driving the car, Jerry Guy. 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.

Nelson on Tuesday was sentenced to 12 months of probation and 40 hours of community service, but Tanksley also gave her the option to seek a new trial.

During the hearing Tuesday, Nelson's attorney, David 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.

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

Nelson told NBC's "Today" on Monday that the jurors who convicted her probably 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.

Many members of the public, however, supported her. "Your office's decision to prosecute Raquel Nelson for the death of her 4-year-old son on a vehicular homicide charge is disgusting and inhumane," one poster wrote on 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 and In Session's Jessica Thill contributed to this report.

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