Lasting Affects of Child Molestation
Some hailed Ellie as a hero...but that didn't help her case. She was charged with voluntary manslaughter and convicted. Her son, Willy, was sent to live with his aunt, while her daughter, Rebecca, went to live with her grandmother.
Two years later, Oprah first spoke with Ellie and her children. At that time, Ellie was serving time in a California prison for killing Daniel Driver, the man who was on trial for molesting Willy and four other boys.
Back then, Ellie had mixed feelings about shooting Daniel. "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."
Why Ellie says she killed her child's accused rapist
At the time, Ellie said she pulled the trigger because she was afraid the system would fail and Daniel would be set free.
Willy's life had begun to spiral out of control. During a 1999 Oprah Show follow up, Ellie said Willy was sent away to boot camps throughout his teenage years. "He needed help, and he needed support," she said. "But they didn't know how to deal with it. ... I regret the pain I have caused my children. In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it."
Then, in 2001, the Nesler family made headlines once again. Ellie was arrested for selling and possessing meth, and she pled guilty. The following year, a judge sentenced her to six more years in prison.
While Ellie was serving her time, 23-year-old Willy was having his own troubles with the law. In 2004, Willy stomped a man to death in a fit of rage. He's now serving 28 years to life for murder in the first degree.
Freed from jail in June 2006, Ellie was unable to visit Willy in prison because she was in the final stages of a long battle with breast cancer. She was 56 years old when she died on December 26, 2008.
See a timeline of the Nesler family's tragic past
Today, Rebecca returns to The Oprah Show for the first time in 15 years to reflect on her family's tragic past.
"You all suffered because your mom, in an act of rage in the courtroom, didn't want to see that molester go free again," Oprah says. "Any mother or father watching can understand what that rage feels like."
Since Ellie and Willy have been in prison for most of Rebecca's life, she says she hasn't been able to move forward with her life. "It's been really hard to move on and know that I have a normal life," she says. "I'll catch myself laughing with family, and I'll sit back and I'll be like: 'You know, [mom and Willy] should be here with me in this moment. They should be able to laugh like this.'"
Thanks to the supportive loved ones who took her in after her mother went to prison, Rebecca says she's doing "okay" and living a normal life. She got married and has children, but during the big milestones in her life, Rebecca wishes she had Willy and Ellie by her side. "My brother wasn't able to walk me down the aisle," she says. "[At] graduation, my mom wasn't able to be there."
Rebecca says she doesn't think Willy would be in prison today if it weren't for her mother shooting his molestor. "He even stated he was over the molestation," Rebecca says. "What hurt all of us was mom being torn away from us."
Rebecca says she was nervous about visiting Willy because she hates having to say goodbye to her best friend. "Mom was my best friend for a long time," Rebecca says. "But Willy's definitely stepped up to that role. He's my confidant."
Dan and Rebecca met with Willy for two and a half hours, but cameras were not allowed inside the prison. Afterward, Dan says he was impressed by Willy's behavior. "Very often when I'll interview someone in prison, they'll either blame other people or they'll be angry or they'll talk about their innocence," Dan says. "Willy didn't do any of that. He was really introspective and thoughtful about his whole life and about the path that had led him there. That really struck me."
Despite the fact that they've been separated for years, Willy and Rebecca remain very close. "Watching these two together is striking," Dan says. "He walks in, and they start talking to each other as if they had just seen each other yesterday."
Rebecca and Willy stay close by writing letters to each other often. "They started talking as if the end of the letter was the beginning of the conversation," Dan says. "When you talk to Willy, that's really clear—that it's about family to him."
In fact, Dan's interview was the first time Willy talked about his family being separated. "Obviously, it hurts him, and I know that, but him saying it validated it," Rebecca says. "That was a turning point, and that is what tore him up and led him on the wrong path—all of us being separated and how much he missed me during that time."
Rebecca says she cries because she misses Willy and wishes he could share her life with her. "He was always such a good big brother," Rebecca says. "He always took care of me." Rebecca is not the only person who will grow up without Willy—he also has a 9-year-old son who lives in Texas with his mom.
Dan thinks it's likely Willy will be in prison until 2031, the year he's eligible for parole.
More from the show:
Oprah on how molesters groom children
6 steps sex offenders take to seduce their victims