Like most other mothers, I do everything I can to keep my children safe. Despite all the precautions, however, often children are victimized by the very people their parents trust most in the world. When that trust is broken and a child is abused, not only is the child traumatized but the abuser may also find his or her life in danger.
Forty-year-old Ellie Nesler walked into a courtroom in Jamestown, CA on April 2, 1993 to attend proceedings in the case against Daniel Mark Driver. The 35-year-old Driver stood accused of sexually molesting four boys at a Christian camp where he worked in 1988. One of those boys was Neslerís son William, who was just six when the molestation allegedly occurred.
This was not Driverís first time in a courtroom, nor was it the first time he stood accused of child molestation. His previous child molestation case, in 1983, ended in a conviction, after which he was sentenced to probation and counseling. This previous conviction, combined with the thought of her then 11-year-old son having to testify and the smirk Neslerís sister claimed to see on Driverís face in the courtroom, drove Nesler over the edge.
During a break in the proceedings, Nesler crept up behind the handcuffed defendant and shot him five times in the head at point-blank range. Driver was killed instantly and Nesler went on trial herself for murder.
Neslerís defense was that she was driven by an instinctual need to protect her child and that she acted in a moment of temporary insanity brought on by anger and grief. Prosecutors claimed that Neslerís actions were calculated, as she had purposely brought the gun to court that day, and fueled not by a ďmama bearĒ reaction but by the methamphetamine found in her system.
In August of 1993, Nesler was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Her conviction was overturned due to juror misconduct after she had spent only three years in custody. Despite her early release, Neslerís life continued to be plagued with legal troubles. In 2002, she was convicted and sentenced to six years in prison after buying enormous quantities of pseudoephedrine pills, a main ingredient in the manufacturing of meth. She once again received an early release from prison, serving half her original sentence that time.
Neslerís son William had run-ins with the law from a young age, many of which also involved drugs. His criminal history culminated in his 2005 conviction for stomping David Davis to death after an argument over stolen property. He was sentenced to 25 years to life for the death, and as of May 2011, he was serving his sentence at High Desert State Prison in Susanville, CA.
Nesler also had health issues, the most serious of which was breast cancer. She was first diagnosed with the illness in 1994 and finally succumbed to it in 2008 at the age of 56. Many remember her as a vigilante mom; a hero who made sure justice was served for her son. Others criticized her actions, saying punishment was a matter for the legal system, not someone bent on revenge.
But why was she the one to act, out of the four sets of parents affected by Driverís case? Was it as simple as the drugs in her system or was there a deeper issue driving her need for revenge? Had she allowed the justice system to handle Driverís case, would she have been there for her son and possibly kept him from committing his crimes? Or would her involvement in meth led to the same or possibly worse outcome? Sadly, cases of vigilante justice often raise more questions than they answer.