A Virginia jury acquitted 36-year-old Raelyn Balfour of involuntary manslaughter Friday in the death of her infant son, Bryce, but the pain of his death made it difficult for her to appreciate the exoneration.
"Regardless that I am vindicated by the justice system, that is not a win. My son will never come back," she said.
Balfour's nightmare began March 30, 2007, when she returned to her vehicle after work and realized her 9-month-old son was still was strapped in his car seat.
"I ran to my car and opened [the] door and saw my son not moving, and I went hysterical," Balfour said. "I started screaming, 'Please help me. Someone please help me. Call 911.'" Click here to listen to the 911 call.
The Greene County, Va., resident said she thought she had dropped her son off at day care on her way to work, which was part of her daily routine. She hadn't made that stop and Bryce died after being left in the car for 7½ hours, despite the fact the temperature outdoors was only 66 degrees.
Police said the temperature inside the sport utility vehicle could have reached 98 degrees in 40 minutes, which is more than enough to kill an infant.
"I go through that memory of seeing my son not breathing every day. I deal with that every day and no parent should have to deal with that," said Balfour, who is now pregnant and has a 14-year-old son from a previous marriage. "No one should have to try to save their child's life from their own terrible mistake."
An hour afterward, police interrogated a still-distraught Balfour. She cried as she tried to explain what occurred.
Her tragedy was compounded when authorities charged her with her son's death the day Bryce was buried. Initially, she faced a second-degree murder charge. It was later downgraded to involuntary manslaughter.
During her trial, Balfour took the stand and explained how her husband had placed a spare baby seat where Bryce sat normally, so she didn't see him in the other seat behind her.
The prosecution characterized her actions as reckless, citing a 30-minute cell phone call she made on her way to work.
Despite the district attorney's assertions, Balfour's husband continued to stand by her and shared her pain.
"There were nights where we couldn't sleep or cried all night," Jarrett Balfour said.
Balfour's experience isn't uncommon.
"These are parents who deeply love their children and due to one fatal lapse of memory has caused the death of that child," said Kids and Cars founder and president Janette E. Fennell.
In order to avoid a similar accident, experts recommend parents leave something they need at their desk next to the baby in the seat, like a briefcase. This way, when they see one, they see the other.
There also are alarms that attach to keys, which go off when a parent gets a certain distance from the child.
Balfour said she wants parents to realize it could happen to them, too. She has vowed to warn others in remembrance of Bryce.
"I made him a promise at the hospital that I will fix it for other children because I can't fix it for him," said Balfour. "I never got to hear him say, 'Mommy,' never got to hear him say, 'I love you.' And I'll be asking him and God for forgiveness till I die."