Denial of parole recommended for driver who killed Kingsport businessman

Rain Smith • Aug 10, 2017 at 1:27 PM

JOHNSON CITY — A hearing officer has recommended that parole be denied for James Hamm, the man convicted in 2014's drunken hit-and-run that killed Kingsport businessman Mike Locke.

On Thursday morning, Locke's widow Debbie, Sullivan County District Attorney Gen. Barry Staubus and other officials spoke against Hamm's early release. Via video conferencing from Johnson City, they took part in the parole hearing for Hamm, who is incarcerated at Northwest Correctional Complex in Tipton, Tenn.

According to Staubus, the hearing officer recommended that Hamm continue to be imprisoned, with another parole hearing set in two years. That opinion will now go under the consideration of a parole board that will ultimately determine Hamm's status.

Debbie Locke has recently circulated petitions to send to the parole board in Nashville, garnering thousands of signatures opposing Hamm's early release.

"I need the community to know that if the parole is denied for two more years, as time goes on, it will become much harder to keep him in prison,” Locke told the Times-News. “But I intend to fight his parole to the end, and try to work on more strict laws and the way our system is set up."

Locke founded the popular Kingsport eatery the Hot Dog Hut, and he briefly served as state representative for the 2nd House District after the 2002 passing of Rep. Keith Westmoreland. He was also an active community volunteer in a number of organizations.

A dedication sign bearing Locke's name now stands along Fort Henry Drive at the bridge where three years ago he was struck by Hamm. The impact knocked Locke into a ravine approximately 20 feet below, and police later found Hamm pulled to the side of the road and drunk behind the wheel.

At the time of the incident, Locke was posting campaign signs for former Kingsport police officer Bud Hulsey. Hulsey later won the seat for the state 2nd House District, formerly held by Locke, and attended Thursday's parole hearing.

“It’s aggravating that we even were there because we shouldn’t have been there,” said Hulsey, R-Kingsport. “It’s already been 15 months since he was sentenced. So that’s one of the things I told the parole board in the hearing is in the General Assembly, we may very well have been shortsighted in the way we set the mechanism up.”

In May of 2016, Hamm received a 14-year prison sentence, with no parole eligibility until 30 percent of the time had been served. His eligibility is now here through “good time” credits that are dictated by Tennessee legislation, allowing convicts to knock off portions off their sentences by working institutional jobs, taking part in prison programs and remaining discipline-free.

In July, the Tennessee Department of Corrections reported Hamm had accumulated 168 credits since being placed into state custody last May; 66 for taking part in programs, 102 for good behavior. Each credit earned counts as one day served.

In addition to those credits, Hamm has been given 887 credits for his incarceration in Sullivan County. From Hamm's arrest for Locke's death in June of 2014 through his sentencing two years later, Hamm received 703 pretrial/time-served credits and 184 for good behavior.

The parole board's final decision on Hamm's case is expected within approximately 10 days. 

“There were 6,000-plus signatures,” Hulsey said of Debbie Locke’s petition drive. “One thing the hearing officer said is ‘This is the most people they’ve seen at a hearing opposing parole for somebody.’ … That’s how much people think of Mike Locke.”

Staff writers Hank Hayes and Holly Viers contributed to this report

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