Ellie Nesler-Vigalnte mom

In April 1993, Ellie Nesler took the law into her own hands when she opened fire in a California courtroom, killing the man accused of sexually assaulting her young son.

41-year-old Ellie Nesler sparked a national debate about vigilantism when she gunned down Daniel Driver at his preliminary hearing on charges he abused five boys at a summer church camp in the 1980s.

Nesler in court

According to lawyers, when Nesler saw Driver “smirk” at her 12-year-old son in open court, she walked out to her car and returned with a .25 calibre handgun.  Nesler pulled out the gun and shot 35-year-old Driver in the head five times as he sat handcuffed to the defence table.

In the ensuing days and months Nesler was hailed as a folk hero by some who sent her flowers and filled her cell with gifts, calling her act righteous justice. There were even T-shirts printed that read: “Nice shooting, Ellie.”

Nesler outside court

Nesler pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and served three years of a 10 year sentence after a finding by the California Supreme Court of juror misconduct in her trial.

While she was still in jail Nesler told the Oprah Winfrey Show that she had mixed feelings about killer her son’s abuser.  “I am sorry that I killed someone and that I’m not with my children,” she said. “But on the other hand, I wish the judicial system would have taken care of it. I wish I wouldn’t have had to.”

Nesler in jail

The case gained Nesler international notoriety and in the years that followed her release from prison she struggled with the effects of the infamy. 

Nesler was paid a $110,000 from producers who made a 1999 TV movie about her case called “Judgment Day: The Ellie Nesler Story”


According to friends she quickly went through the money and ended up homeless. In 2002, she was sentenced to six years in prison for selling drugs.

Nesler with kids

In 2004, while Nesler was serving her drug sentence, her son Willie, who developed a juvenile record during his mother’s murder trial and who became a teenage runaway, killed a man by stomping him to death.  He was sentenced to 25 years to life. 

Nesler died from cancer in 2008.  She was 56-years-old. 

For more stories from the 90s, check out my podcast “History of the 90s” available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at http://www.curiouscast.ca

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply