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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Avenging Mother

Ellie Nesler’s death was reported in today’s news. She had gained her notoriety the old fashioned way, by killing someone who deserved killing. Her life story is a cornucopia of crimes, as victim, perpetrator, mother --- a hardscrabble life spent in the trailer trash fringes of society. She was the perfect heroine for the T.V. movie, fast food and tabloid gorging denizens of the white flight exurbs, whom she dazzled long before Sarah Palin took the title.

In 1988, her 7 year old son Willie had returned from Christian camp complaining that he had been "touched in a bad way." Suspicion fell on a dishwasher with a child molestation record, Daniel Driver, who was charged. Driver had been suspect in previous incidents, but the church had supported him. The case dragged on until one day, Ellie shot and killed him in the courtroom.

She soon became the heroine of trailer mom supporters of vengeance, her ‘story’ a lightning rod for talkradio, bumper stickers, tee shirts, and a template for Hollywood potboilers, inspiring the likes of Jodie Foster to make movies about this ultimate act of good parenting.

Eventually, as all good stories, the messy facts began to interfere with the perfection of myth. Turns out Ellie had been involved in crimes as a teen, and was revealed to have been loaded on meth at the time of the shooting. Additional evidence of planning cast doubt on her image as the mom temporarily maddened by the sight of her child’s tormentor. Nonetheless, the mitigating factors were enough to justify a manslaughter verdict, which was reversed on appeal. After her release, she got in trouble again, was returned to prison after buying 10,000 pseudoephedrine tabs, the precursor of methamphetamine possessed for sale.

Meanwhile, son Willie was convicted of assault on a handyman in a dispute over tools, and when released from that crime, immediately stomp the victim to death, earning himself a sentence of 25 years to life.

Mom was released from prison in 2006 and died of breast cancer. Willie has asked for permission from prison authorities to attend he funeral.

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