Home for the holiday: Party parents paroled

The Times of London decried the case as evidence of "the strong puritanical impulse of American society." Now, on the eve of America's puritanically inspired holiday, Elisa Kelly and George Robinson are free.

As punishment for serving alcohol at an underage party in 2002, the two went to jail June 11 to begin serving a 27-month sentence, the longest incarceration on record for providing booze to minors. Five months after entering the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail, the two were released at 8am November 19.

The Kelly/Robinson case became an international cause célÆ?šbre when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal that the police search of their backyard was unconstitutional, and it became clear they were headed to jail.

The saga began August 16, 2002, when the Kelly and Robinson, then married, hosted a 16th birthday party for Kelly's son Ryan, who insisted that he planned to drink. Soccer mom Kelly reasoned that it was safer to have the teens stay at her house if they were going to drink, so she purchased $360 in beer and wine coolers and intended to confiscate car keys.

Then someone called the police. At their first trial, Judge Dwight Johnson held the Robinsons accountable not only for their own actions, but seemingly for the alcohol-related accident a month earlier that caused the death of 16-year-old Brittany Hope Bishop, who "wasn't cold in the ground," he said, when he sentenced them to eight years in jail.

On appeal in Albemarle Circuit Court, Judge Paul Peatross reduced the sentence to 27 months– two years longer than the 90-day sentence recommended by Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos. After four years of appeals were exhausted, Kelly and Robinson donned the orange jail jumpsuits in June.

Despite former Governor George Allen's abolition of parole for felonies, it's still an option for the misdemeanors for which Kelly and Robinson were doing time. "The parole system is basically a good thing," says attorney Fran Lawrence, who represents Kelly. He says that while the issue became a "campaign slogan" because of a few violent releases, "Others are clearly rehabilitated. Once they're clearly rehabilitated, let's get them out of there."

"Because of the length of [Robinson's] sentence, he became eligible for discretionary release," says Robinson's attorney, Jonathan Wren. Wren lobbied the parole board to release his client, and a parole examiner interviewed Robinson.

Lawrence wrote a letter to the parole board, as did Camblos. "I did not agree with the severity of the active sentences given to Mr. Robinson or Mrs. Robinson/Kelly in either court," he says in the letter.

"Certainly when the court refused to change her sentence, it was a disappointing moment for the justice system," says Lawrence.

Johnson sentenced the pair to six months for each of 16 counts– to be served consecutively. "It was an out-of-control moment," says Lawrence. "Clearly it was a crazy sentence. The whole thing was crazy. Judge Johnson was stuck on the math. Then Judge Peatross was stuck on that sentence, giving it some weight on appeal." Peatross ordered three months in jail on nine counts, again to be served consecutively.

Robinson and Kelly– who had never had a traffic ticket before hosting the ill-fated party– were model prisoners while in jail, says Lawrence. Kelly was on work release, and "George was a trusty," he says.

The two found out a couple of weeks ago they'd been granted discretionary parole. "That doesn't happen very often," says Wren. And normally it takes about 30 days to get out of jail once the release is granted. "This happened in a week and a half," he adds.

Neither Kelly nor Robinson had responded to requests for interviews at press time. Wren saw his client on November 16, when he found out Robinson would be released November 19.

"He seemed happy," says Wren. "I know he'll spend time with his family. It's been a long ordeal." Wearing knight's armor, Robinson remarried in a Renaissance wedding October 16, 2004, and now has a two-year-old daughter.

Two days after Robinson's wedding, the Bleak House Road home that was the scene of the party, and where Kelly still lived, burned to the ground. Kelly fled naked from the fire and lost all of her belongings, she told the Hook shortly after her incarceration. Her son Ryan dropped out of school because of the case's notoriety, and her other son Brandon, a junior in high school, was working two jobs so his mom would have a place to live when she got out of jail.

Between the appeals and a contentious divorce that made its way to the Supreme Court of Virginia, Kelly racked up more than $300,000 in legal bills. Lawrence wrote to the parole board, "Ms. Kelly is now financially destitute and in substantial debt."

But he also notes in his letter, "Ms. Kelly has dealt with all this bravely. Her courage and humor stood out when she apologized to me for being a client for whom I could not seem to win. As an attorney, I can tell you that most of my clients blame their losses on me...."

Robinson "may have more to say on the subject later," says his lawyer, "but for the time being, he only wants to focus on the future."

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9 comments

Well in the country I work in (Denmark) youth can buy all kinds og alcohol on their own, when they turn 16 and even if they are seen drunk as early as when they are 8 years old, their parents are not punished. (It has happened just a few months ago in the town where I am living - Kulhuse)

Does that approach mean that they need to lock more people up than in our country, or have to live with a higher number of murders, DUI, teenage pregnancies?

No it does not. The youth drink but soon realizes that they will miss good education, good lives and travelling (You do not need even a passport if you are travelling within the Nordic countries.), so they sober up before getting access to cars etc.

According to a resent study done in all European countries more than the half of the youth aged between 13 and 15 had been drinking alcohol. In Denmark this number is above 80 percent. Why are we so afraid of the youth drinking alcohol, when the numbers of a relaxed approach shows good results, when it comes to spared lives later in life?

It's a bit of a stretch to claim that drunk drivers "normally" kill people while crack addicts and thieves don't. But yes, drunk drivers can kill.

So can bad drivers. Should we lock up DMV workers who award driver's licenses to people who can't even freaking park? After all, they're allowing irresponsible and unskilled drivers behind the wheel of a 2,000 pound killing machine.

So can cell phone users. In fact, I've read recent studies that talking on a cell phone while driving may be more deadly than drinking and driving. Does that make every parent who buys their teenagers cell phones evil as well? Granted - cell phones have legitimate uses, but does a parent who lets their child use a cell phone in the car deserve to go to jail?

What these parents did was stupid, but they DID make everybody give them their car keys when they arrived. How many of us have ever done that when we've had a party at our homes for adults?

I'm glad they've been released. Yeah, they'll never do it again. That probably would have been the case if they had received suspended sentences.

$360 spent on beer and wine coolers. If each six pack cost $9, then the Robinson/Kelly duo bought 40 six packs for 30 teenagers at a 16 year old's birthday party. Was the plan to get them drunk? Why?

I hope both of these judges get caught doing anything, and have the book thrown at them to be made examples of. They both are great examples of a judicial system run by idiots. They let crack addicts go on probation to steal again that night, they give thieves second third and fourth chances obviously because they ARE a minority and then they too the bok at these two.

I wonder how many people didn't call to get a party broken up because they didn't want the gestapo putting them in jail? I guess we culd poll the neighborhood AFYER someone dies from drunk driving.

Idiots.

Attitudes towards drinking appears to be a peer problem rather than a parental one: http://dailyprogress.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=CDP/MGArticle/CDP_Ba...

Seems like the right thing to do. I think the justice system has made its point and made otherwise responsible, law-abiding parents think twice before giving their teenagers beer bongs for graduation.

Join the Rescue Squad and see the results of drinking and driving firsthand. These idiots gave a beer party just a few weeks after one of their kids peers was killed in a DUI accident. Crack addicts and thieves don't normally kill people but DUIs sure as hell do. While I do think the original sentence was harsh, the resulting stretch was assuredly not. I don't feel sorry for them one f***in bit. Bet they won't do it again.

The problem was that these parents lied to other parents when asked if alcohol would be served. Now, I do not give a hoot how other families deal with alcohol within their own homes with their own children, and I am actually on the easy going side with my own child. But I do not allow my child to go to parties where alcohol will be served and I expect truthful answers from other parents about whether alcohol will be provided. I do not think the judge was blaming these parents for the alcohol related accident within their peer group earlier that summer but, at the time, it did seem as if that accident might have caused them to use better judgment in an already grieving community.

Hallowgreen - "so they sober up before getting access to cars etc." Music Lover - "...but they DID make everybody give them their car keys when they arrived." Hook - "Soccer mom Kelly reasoned that it was safer to have the teens stay at her house if they were going to drink, so she purchased $360 in beer and wine coolers and intended to confiscate car keys." They did not sober up before they drove, the intention was to do the opposite. The keys were not confiscated before they drank, the intention was to do so afterwards, according to the Hook. What would have happened if the kid refused to give up the key? Would his parents have been called to come pick him up? How many of the parents allowed their kids to drive to the party knowing that they could be drinking more than enough for a DUI? What right do these people have to determine if someone else's kid should be allowed to drink? Were the purveyors of the alcohol aware of the potential effects of the alcohol on the individual's medications, physical conditions or mental conditions? How many of the drinkers were in violation of a court order or parental order? No one wants to answer my question as to why adults have an interest in plying teenagers with enough alcohol that they can not drive home? That questions can be ignored but let's not try to change the story that was apparently told in court.