A Kingsport man convicted as a teen of negligent homicide was allowed to remain on probation and didn’t lose judicial diversion during a probation violation hearing Tuesday in Washington County Criminal Court.
Aaron Z. Decker, 23, appeared before Judge Lynn Brown on the violation, in which prosecutors said he drove without a license to go to Pal’s last year.
In reinstating Decker to probation and not revoking the diversion, Brown essentially said it would be a shame for the young man to have a felony on him, which would also depreciate the college degree he’s trying to earn.
Decker was originally charged with vehicular homicide for the Oct. 13, 2007, crash that killed Jessica “Jessi” Johnson, 17, of Johnson City. He was 17 years old at the time and charged in Juvenile Court, but the case was transferred to adult court.
In September 2008, Decker pleaded guilty to reckless homicide, reckless endangerment and underage consumption for the crash that killed Johnson. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but granted diversion. If Brown had revoked the diversion, Decker would have to serve his sentence.
In a previous hearing, Decker said he drank about five beers in approximately 20 minutes before getting behind the wheel of his car to drive from Johnson City to Kingsport.
Within months of Decker’s 2008 plea, he was charged with underage consumption for drinking on campus at East Tennessee State University. He escaped any real repercussions and was allowed to keep the judicial diversion agreement. Last year, Decker pleaded guilty to a driving on a suspended license charge and Tuesday’s hearing was a probation violation as a result of that charge.
A Johnson City police officer stopped Decker in September 2011 for having an expired tag, then discovered he had no valid license.
Assistant District Attorney Kelly McCoy argued against Decker maintaining the diversion.
“Our position has always been, at the very least, his diversion should be revoked. He was on a serious charge,” she told Brown.
But the judge determined Decker’s violation did not warrant the revocation.
“His college degree becomes, not worthless but worth tremendously less if he is a convicted felon. He is accomplishing a lot more than 95 percent of people” on probation, Brown said.
Decker is apparently within two or three semesters from graduating with a bachelor’s degree from ETSU.
Brown also ordered Decker’s supervised probation transferred to unsupervised probation upon his graduation.