For 10 years, prosecutor Leslie Lewis has gone after accused child abusers and murderers with a vengeance.
"Wimp" or "compassionate fool" are labels never attached to her name in legal circles.But in a rare court scene Friday afternoon, Lewis asked for probation with no jail time for a woman who admitted shooting her boyfriend in the head while he was lying on a couch.
Accepting the prosecutor's recommendation, 3rd District Judge Richard Moffat placed Nancy Anne Riley, 30, on probation for a year after Riley pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, a Class A misdemeanor.
"I think it's tragic this defendant was placed into the emotional and mental situation because of her relationship with the victim. I agree with the prosecutor the price she has paid has been enough."
Originally, Riley was charged with manslaughter, a second-degree felony.
She shot her live-in boyfriend, James H. Gentry, 29, after she discovered that he had sexually abused her young son. The 30-year-old woman had been physically and emotionally abused by him, and she feared Gentry would harm her 13-year-old daughter.
On June 5, Riley obtained a 20-gauge shotgun and shot him as he was sleeping. She then dragged his body from the house and stuffed it into the trunk of a car parked behind her home at 2978 S. 9150 West.
"This case demonstrates a quality of mercy. I have never had a case like it," Lewis said following the sentencing.
"I'm not condoning murder. Obviously she had other options to resolve her problems, but in her mind at the point of the killing she didn't perceive she had other choices. To her, she acted in defense of her children.
"There are cases where circumstances mitigate the crime, and this is such a case."
Gentry had a long history of crime. He had been arrested in four states for various crimes including assaulting a peace officer, resisting arrest and possessing an illegal weapon.
Prosecutors are typically viewed as tough and mean-spirited, said Lewis. Usually, a prosecutor needs to be aggressive and unrelenting in court to protect the interests of victims. In this case, however, the defendant and her children are victims. Riley's children had to be considered, she said.
The incidents leading to the murder, the agony following her admission to police and subsequent court charges and appearances have caused Riley to suffer unspeakable pain, said Lewis.
After she shot Gentry, she considered killing herself. Eventually, she told her brother of the killing. He called the police, and Riley surrendered.
Her three children ages 14, 13 and 9 have shared their mother's anguish. To remove Riley from her children by placing her in jail would be an injustice to her children and to society. "Placing her on probation was the compassionate and right thing to do. Otherwise, the children would be victimized further," the prosecutor said.
Instead of going to trial, Riley chose to admit to the killing to spare her children the anguish of having to testify in court.
In deciding an appropriate sentence, a prosecutor considers the chance of a defendant repeating the crime. Lewis feels assured Riley will never commit a crime again. "She has no previous record. She is intelligent and non-violent. Unfortunately, she placed herself in an intolerable situation and didn't know where to go for help."
Mercy, as shown in this case, is the finest part of our judicial system, she said.
Reluctantly facing reporters after leaving the courtroom Friday, Riley expressed gratitude for her sentence of probation.
"I'm glad this is over. It's been a bad situation from the start.
"I know what I did was not right. It's not right to take someone's life."
Nervously wringing her hands as she spoke, Riley said, "But now I can go back home to my children. Now we can have safety in our home."