BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Department of Correction’s field office in Blountville was packed Tuesday morning with loved ones of former State Representative Mike Locke.
Locke was killed in 2014 when he was struck by a drunk driver who fled the scene. That driver, later identified as James Hamm Jr., was arrested and convicted for vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death.
For over 7 and a half years, Hamm has been behind bars, forced to live with the consequences of his actions. However, a parole hearing held Tuesday morning could result in his sentence being cut short.
Tuesday marked the fourth time Hamm went before the parole board, and the fourth time the family and loved ones of Mike Locke sat before the board to oppose his release.
However, something about this hearing was different than the last. “He had his mind made up before it even started,” said the widow of Mike Locke, Debbie Locke, in reference to Board of Parole Chairman, Richard Montgomery.
Montgomery moderated the hearing, listening to both statements of support and opposition when it came to considering the release of Hamm.
After over an hour and a half of sitting in the hearing, Montgomery ultimately recommended parole. While he stated he would feel the same way as the Locke family if he were in their position, wanting the ultimate sentence served, he stated his decision was swayed by new legislation.
Governor Bill Lee passed a criminal reform package in the Spring of 2021 containing two bills that would drastically change the system as we know it.
The law cited in Tuesday’s hearing was House Bill 785, also known as the Re-Entry Success Act of 2021. The law took effect in July of 2021. District Attorney General Barry Staubus, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing, said the law is flawed.
“Part of the law that was passed last year, that I think was a bad law, shifted the burden to victim’s to have to come into parole hearings and prove, in certain circumstances, that the person shouldn’t get parole instead of placing the burden on the defendant who has been previously convicted of a crime and we saw that play out,” he said.
Staubus said, in the end, they were unable to prove that burden seeing as Hamm had met the qualifying criteria for a parole recommendation.
However, the Locke family feels that burden of proof is strong, and if released, they said Hamm would only continue to put others in danger.
“The best barometer for future events is past history and I think somewhere down the road we will see it and you have to kind of say a prayer for the people of West Virginia because if that’s where he’s going, they’re going to be in harm’s way,” said Locke’s brother, David Locke.
It was an emotional hearing with Debbie Locke, once again fighting for justice for her late husband.
“We want to honor Mike by seeing he gets the justice he is so deserving of by imposing the full judgment the court levy,” she said during her impact statement.
Representative Bud Hulsey also addressed the board, voicing his opposition to release. “7 and a half years for taking the life of Mike Locke is not just. I’m just asking the parole board to do the just thing,” said Hulsey.
While the majority in attendance was in opposition, Hamm was accompanied by family on Tuesday during the hearing. His mother and father were in the room, alongside his sister who shared a few words regarding why Hamm should be released.
“He comes from a loving family. My parents have been married 52 years, they raised us in a loving family. He has a huge family in West Virginia who loves and supports him,” she said.
Early on in the hearing, Hamm told Montgomery that if he was to be released, he would live in West Virginia where the majority of his family resides. However, Locke’s brother was quick to rebut that his family really didn’t have anything to do with Hamm’s actions that day.
“This is not about love and family. This is about a choice that James Hamm made that took my brother’s life,” said David Locke.
During the hearing and prior to the recommendation, Hamm was given the chance to share why he believes he should be released.
“I am sorry for what I did and it’s something that I think about from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed and I will think about it for the rest of my life,” said Hamm.
Montgomery moved to recommend parole on a few conditions.
The conditions are as followed:
- Upon release, he will live in a halfway house or other approved housing
- Random breath alcohol screening
- Urine screening for alcohol, drugs and illegal byproducts
- Substance abuse treatment referral
- Mandatory substance abuse programming
- Must pay all court ordered restitution
- Recommendation for a Transdermal monitoring device
- Must work with a social worker to address treatment and transitional needs
Debbie Locke said her family is devastated by this news and that she will continue to fight for justice not only for Mike but for other families going through a similar situation.
“That’s all that was left for Mike, the little justice that he could’ve received and that was taken away from him also,” she said.
There are five members on the parole board that will decide Hamm’s fate. The majority vote will rule.
Officials with the Department of Corrections say the decision will be returned within seven to ten days.