Ellie shot dead her young son’s accused abuser in court.
Ellie was born into a coal-mining family in August 1952, near Jamestown, California.
It was a pretty hard life, where she earned extra cash as a teenager by driving a tractor for a local farmer and helping to dig ditches.
An early first marriage ended in an equally swift divorce. She then met and married a gold miner, Bill Nesler, and they had a son, also Bill.
The family moved to Liberia in West Africa in the hope of finding gold, and Ellie gave birth to a daughter. However, civil war broke out, so Ellie returned to California with her children, leaving her husband behind.
Ellie was left trying to survive on welfare cheques and she would supplement this by chopping wood for other people in the neighbourhood.A regular churchgoer, she befriended a parishioner called Daniel Mark Driver. The 34-year-old became a father figure to Ellie’s son Bill.
When Bill was 7, in the summer of 1988, he begged his mum to let him go away to Christian camp for a fortnight. Ellie agreed as their trusted family friend Daniel was helping out at the camp as a dishwasher. But when Bill returned, he was a different child, veering between being sullen and argumentative.
Ellie confided in Daniel that she was finding her son hard to deal with and the two prayed together for divine guidance. Then, while he was on a sleepover at his aunt’s house, Bill told her that Daniel had ‘done nasty things to him’.
The woman confided in Ellie and Ellie told Bill that she, too, had been abused at a similar age. Ellie had also told a relative, but he’d said that this happened to little girls all the time and was nothing to worry about.
Now Ellie told her son that he must tell the police exactly what had happened so that, unlike her own abuser, Daniel Driver would face justice.The little boy told police that he’d been sexually abused by Daniel Driver at the summer camp.
Police investigated and discovered that Driver had previously been found guilty of molestation, yet had been given probation. Now he was facing even more serious charges over crimes against Bill and three other local boys.
As the date for Driver’s pre-trial hearing loomed, little Bill became increasingly distraught and was vomiting repeatedly – he was convinced that Daniel Driver would hurt him if he testified. And the hearing went badly.
Despite their young age, the children, including Bill, had to sit close to their accused abuser and be asked invasive questions about what had been done to them. Surely they’d be too terrified to tell the truth.
Afraid that Driver was going to be set free again, Ellie Nesler entered the Tuolumne courtroom in Northern California on 2 April 1993, walked into the back room where Driver was talking to his legal team, and fatally shot him in the head and neck a total of five times.
When Ellie was taken into custody, she became a heroine to many for protecting her son and potentially many other children.
That sympathetic stance wavered, however, when it was discovered that she’d actually been high on methamphetamine at the time of the shooting and that Ellie had been taking the drug for some time.
In 1994, Ellie was diagnosed with breast cancer and told she’d probably only live five years. She pleaded not guilty to murdering Driver due to temporary insanity.
Many expected the judge to be lenient, given the circumstances, but she was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In 1996, Ellie was released on appeal. But, six years later – outliving her cancer prognosis – she was convicted of buying tablets used to make methamphetamine. She was sentenced to six years in jail. Ellie served four years and was then released.
Sadly, during his mother’s incarceration, Bill went off the rails and ended up in juvenile hall for numerous offences, including robbery and drugs.
At 23, he assaulted a friend who he believed was stealing from the family property. He was given a two-month sentence for this. Within an hour of being released, he tracked down the friend and kicked him repeatedly. The man died within hours of his injuries.
In 2005, Bill Nesler was sentenced to 25 years to life for murder.
The cancer Ellie had been diagnosed with all those years before now gained a stronger hold and she died in 2008, aged 56.
Bill was not allowed to attend his mother’s funeral.