From tragedy to forgiveness: Judge helps family find closure in Ga. toddler's death

(CBS News) JONESBORO, Ga. - This story begins with a tragedy destined to shatter the lives of everyone involved.

It might have, were it not for a man who rivals Solomon in wisdom.

Two-year-old Jazmin Green died last year after day care workers left her in a van on a hot summer day in Jonesboro, Ga. Her parents, April McAlister and Charles Green wanted everyone involved to go to prison.

Jazmin Green, 2, died after she was left in a hot van outside a Georgia day care center.
Jazmin Green, 2, died after she was left in a hot van outside a Georgia day care center.
CBS News

"It's blind rage at first because it's your daughter," Green said. "You don't care who did it, you want justice immediately."

Seventeen-year-old Miesha Ridley was the daycare worker who incorrectly checked off that the toddler was removed from the van. She pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and faced prison.

Ridley said she felt like her life was over. "It was really hard, because it felt like that was my child," she said. "because I've known her for so long."

But Judge Steve Teske, who presided over Ridley's case, had a different idea.

"She's not a bad kid," Teske said. "It was a mistake, and yes it was horrendous mistake, but at that juncture, how we respond to her, is going to define the rest of her life."

As chief of the Clayton County Juvenile Court, Teske has worked with the community to drastically reduce the number of minors going to prison. He says a child's history and potential are important to consider.

Miesha was already heading to college, she was already on a path to success.

Teske gave her an unusual sentence. Two years probation and he required Ridley to make a memorial to Jazmin.

Ga. teen ordered to build memorial in toddler's death

Teske said the inspiration for the sentence came from Jazmin's father.

"He asks this one question: 'who's going to remember my daughter?'" Teske said. "Wow, that struck me right here."

"We asked Jazmin's parents what they thought about the judge's decision."

"I am happy for what the judge did for her and what the judge did give her," McAlister said. "He did give her the opportunity to do something for our child and help herself as well."

"We as a community need a reminder of Jazmin," Green added. "And she needs a push to let her know that this is not going to stop you."

Jazmin's parents also needed a sense of closure. They asked to meet with Miesha to tell her that they did not hold any grudges. Their courtroom meeting was awkward at first, but as they talked about Jazmin, there were tears and then smiles. Ridley showed them the quilt that she spent nearly three months making in Jazmin's memory.

The quilt will be displayed permanently at a new juvenile justice center opening in Jonesboro later this month -- a tribute not only to the short life of little Jazmin Green, but also to second chances.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.