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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Vigilante Justice: Ellie Nesler's Short, Troubled Life

     In 1952, Ellie Starr Nesler was born in Jamestown, California, a gold mining community in the northern part of the state. Her family was poor, and as a teenager she worked for a local farmer driving a tractor and digging ditches. Her first marriage ended quickly in divorce. She survived on welfare and part time jobs.

     Ellie Nesler's second husband was a gold miner who took her and their two young children--William and Rebecca--to Liberia in West Africa where he hoped to strike it rich mining gold. When civil war broke out in that country, Ellie and the children returned to California. Her husband remained in Africa.

     In 1987, while residing in Jamestown, Ellie Nesler befriended 31-year-old Daniel Driver, a member of her church. Mr. Driver took an intense interest in Ellie's 5-year-old son William and soon became like a father to the boy. Unbeknownst to Ellie Nesler, Mr. Driver was a serial pedophile who was grooming her unsuspecting son for sex.

     In the summer of 1988, Daniel Driver and Ellie Nesler's 6-year-old son attended a two-week summer church camp. When the boy returned home, he was a different person--sullen and argumentative. Several months later, the boy told his mother that Daniel Driver had repeatedly sexually molested him at the summer camp.

     In 1992, a Tuolumne County, California prosecutor charged Daniel Driver with sexually molesting Ellie Nesler's son and three other boys. On April 2, 1993, Ellie hid a .25-caliber pistol in her purse and entered the Tuolumne County Court House to attend a preliminary hearing on the Driver sex abuse case. (In those days court houses did not have entrance metal detectors and visitors were not searched.) During a break in the proceeding, Ellie Nesler walked up to the defendant and from point blank range, shot him in the head and neck, killing him on the spot. Sheriffs Deputies immediately took her into custody.

     When questioned by detectives, Ellie Nesler said, "He deserved to die. Maybe I'm not God, but I'll tell you what--I'm the closest damn thing to it for all the other little boys." When asked why she had murdered the accused molester, she said she had no confidence that her son and the other victims would receive justice in Tuolumne County.

     For some in the Jamestown community, Ellie Nesler was a hero for exacting her own justice against a predatory pedophile. Others condemned her for taking the law into her own hands.

     On July 14, 1993, just three months after the 41-year-old defendant killed the suspected sex offender, a Tuolumne County jury found Ellie Nesler guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The judge sentenced her to ten years at the women's prison in Chowchilla, California. After the sentence, Nesler said, "I'm sorry that I killed someone and that I'm not with my children. But on the other hand, I wish the judicial system would have taken care of it. I wish I wouldn't have had to."

     A year after her conviction, a California appellate court overturned Nesler's conviction on grounds of jury misconduct. In 1995, Ellie Nesler pleaded guilty to manslaughter in return for a three-year sentence. Because she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, the judge agreed to the lighter sentence.

    Ellie Nesler had been out of prison about a year when, in 1999, the USA cable network aired a movie about her called, "Judgment Day: The Ellie Nesler Story."

     Following her prison stretch in Chowchilla, California, life did not go well for Ellie Nesler. In 2002, a judge sentenced her to six years in prison after she pleaded guilty to the possession and sale of methamphetamine. Claiming that she couldn't get a fair trial in Tuolumne County, Nesler returned to prison maintaining her innocence.

     While serving her time at Chowchilla, Elli's now 23-year-old son William, stomped a man to death in Jamestown. He committed the murder just 30 days after he had been released from a 30-day sentence for an earlier assault.  In 2005, the judge sentenced him to 25 years to life.

     In 2006, Ellie Nesler received an early release from prison. On Christmas day, 2008, she died of cancer at the U. C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. She was 56.

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