DENVER — When Jamilyah Nelson killed Kevin Key on Oct. 10, 2007, she said it was out of self-defense, but the jury who ultimately convicted her of first-degree murder was never shown evidence that her boyfriend was abusing her.
That's one reason why a judge dismissed her life sentence on Monday morning and gave her a new sentence after she pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
“I have a lot of people come to this courtroom and tell me at sentencing that they’re sorry for what they did," said Denver Judge Kenneth Laff. "And some frankly are more convincing than others. But Ms. Nelson has lived that remorse.”
He pointed to the fact that although Nelson had a life sentence, she still tried to better herself and others in the 12 years she's served at Denver Women's Correctional Facility.
“She has engaged in activities, I think this is what’s most impressive to the court, that aren’t designed to benefit her necessarily but to benefit others," Laff said. "She has been unselfish in her years."
According to her attorney, Eric Klein, a dismissal of a life sentence is rare, but what he found even more remarkable was how the prosecutor spoke of his client.
"This is a very unique case," said Maggie Conboy, a chief deputy district attorney in Denver. "And the people want to commend Ms. Nelson."
Conboy pointed to Nelson's mentoring, and a program she helped start for incarcerated mothers to connect with their children as reasons why her office believes she should be back in society.
While Key's family was not present in the courtroom, Conboy said she spoke with his mom on Friday.
"And while they are suffering the loss that no parents should ever experience, the loss of a child," she said, "they agree that Ms. Nelson should be given an opportunity to get out of prison one day."
In a video sent to the judge, Nelson said, "if I could change anything I just wish that I had the strength to leave when I could have left."
Nelson's attorney said with her new sentence, she could be out of prison in five years.
“I need her energy that she gives," said Nelson's mom, Zolo Anderson. "That keeps me going. So I see the light at the end of the tunnel."
In December, 9NEWS profiled Nelson as she performed in the Denver Women's Correctional Facility's production of 'A Christmas Carol.'
“It means everything," Nelson told us before a performance in December. "We talk about it off stage all the time how we’ve taken from society and just to be able to give them something back. We’ve given our all for this. And to give something back means so much."
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