A Rock Island man, convicted of reckless homicide in the 2009 brutal beating of another man on Center Hill Lake, received a four year prison sentence this morning (Wednesday) in DeKalb County Criminal Court
39 year old James Vernon, under an agreement between his attorney, assistant district public defender Allison Rasbury and assistant district attorney general Greg Strong, accepted the four year sentence rather than go through with a sentencing hearing. The range of punishment for reckless homicide is two to four years.
Vernon, who remained in the DeKalb County Jail from July 9th, 2009 until December 20th, 2010, was given credit for the 529 days he has already served. Vernon has also waived his right to file an appeal or a motion for a new trial. With the jail credit time he has built, Vernon could be released soon, since he is only required to serve 30% of his sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Vernon has been free on bond since December 20th, pending the sentencing date.
After the court proceedings Wednesday, Vernon was taken into custody. He is currently in the county jail but is expected to eventually be transported to the Tennessee Department of Corrections. Judge Leon Burns, Jr., who sentenced Vernon, told him that the state parole board will determine when he is to be released.
Originally charged with first degree murder in the death of 24 year old David Joseph Clark, Vernon stood trial on Tuesday, November 30th in DeKalb County Criminal Court for second degree murder. Later that evening the jury, made of up six men and six women, returned from it's deliberations with a verdict of reckless homicide.
State prosecutors said Vernon was responsible for the death of Clark, who was severely beaten during an attack on a houseboat at Center Hill Lake July 7th, 2009. Clark died a week later from his injuries at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga. The fight was apparently over Vernon's missing wallet, which he accused Clark of stealing. The assault occurred in DeKalb County, only a short distance from Horsehoe Bend Marina, which is in White County.
Vernon, who testified during the trial in his own defense, said that he met Clark on the fourth of July, 2009 during an outing on the lake. Two days later, July 6th Vernon said Clark showed up at his boat, just to hang out. Clark invited him inside but a short time later, Vernon said Clark suddenly left, saying he had to go. Vernon looked around and noticed that his wallet, which he kept on the bar near the dining table, was missing. Thinking that Clark took it, Vernon followed after Clark and confronted him about the wallet, which he said contained $50. Clark denied taking the wallet and Vernon apparently never found it.
The next night, July 7th, Vernon said he showed up at a friend's houseboat and that Clark later arrived. Witnesses testified that Clark was already at the boat when Vernon got there. Vernon apparently confronted Clark again about the wallet. While Clark denied taking the wallet, Vernon said Clark admitted to stealing from others in the area and added that they got what they deserved. Vernon said he took the comment personally, became angry and began punching him after Clark tried to grab him. But witnesses testified that Clark did nothing to provoke Vernon and that Vernon began hitting Clark, after the two men had shook hands. According to the witnesses, Vernon inflicted three or four blows to Clark and then continued beating him after he fell to the floor unconscious, even though witnesses tried to restrain Vernon and called for him to stop.
Vernon testified that he deeply regretted what he had done. When asked by District Attorney General Randy York if he had said "I'm sorry' to anyone. Vernon replied, "Yes, the Lord."
York, in his closing remarks to the jury, said Vernon committed second degree murder, acting intentionally and knowing that Clark could die, especially when he continued the beating even after Clark had lost consciousness.
District Public Defender David Brady and assistant Allison Rasbury, in their closing remarks, said that while Vernon was wrong in the attack, he did not commit second degree murder in that he could not have known with reasonable certainty that the injuries from the fight would lead to Clark's death.