Ellie Nesler dies of cancer

By Bee News Services last updated: December 28, 2008 11:36:52 PM

SACRAMENTO — Ellie Nesler, who shot and killed her son’s accused molester in a Tuolumne County courtroom in 1993, has died of cancer.

Nesler, 56, died at 5:55 a.m. Friday at the University of California Medical Center, public information officer Phyllis Brown said Sunday night. Nesler was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994, and said doctors at the time gave her about five months to live.

In a 1999 Bee interview at her home in Galt, Nesler said "I put my health in God's hands, and I believe He's already given me extra life. But right now I’m pretty sick, pretty afraid."

Nesler, then a Sonora resident, drew national attention when she shot Daniel Driver in a Jamestown courtroom. She was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for shooting Driver five times in the head during a break in his preliminary hearing on charges of molesting four boys, including her son. Her crime sparked a national debate about vigilantism.

In June 1999, the courtroom shooting was told as a TV movie, “Judgment Day: The Ellie Nesler Story,” on the USA cable network. It was told in a series of flashbacks and courtroom scenes and starred Christine Lahti as Nesler.

She served three years of a 10-year sentence before winning an appeal based on jury misconduct.

In 2002, Nesler was sentenced to six years in prison for selling and possessing illegal drugs, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

She pleaded guilty, though she maintained her innocence.

"I was going to fight (the drug charges)," Nesler said outside of proceedings at Tuolumne County Superior Court, "but I didn’t think I could get a fair trial — not in this county."

She was released from prison after serving four years.

Nesler's son, Willy, had difficult times after his mother was sent to prison.

He was convicted in 2005 of first-degree murder in connection with the 2004 stomping death of a man at the Neslers’ property. Willy Nesler, then 23, beat David Davis to death less than an hour after he was released from a 30-day jail sentence for assaulting Davis, 45, earlier that year.

Davis had been hired to clean the Nesler property on Shaws Flat Road near Sonora, which was the subject of county enforcement actions because it was filled with trash and old trailers.

Davis was letting others stay on the property, and Nesler believed he was letting them pick through the family's belongings, keeping things they thought were salvageable.

He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

KXTV in Sacramento reported that a funeral is planned for next week.