A man guilty of vehicular homicide will not spend any time in prison following an unusual act of forgiveness in open court.
“I do forgive you,” Jana Bice tearfully told Jeremiah Mann, the person who killed her father when his SUV struck Dwight Brooks’ car in March 2004 in Chattanooga.
“My father was a wonderful man,” Ms. Bice continued during Mr. Mann’s sentencing hearing Monday. “But I think (Mr. Mann) is remorseful. I don’t think my dad would want him to sit in prison.”
Mr. Mann, 28, instead received a 10-year suspended sentence with the stipulation that he spend the next 30 weekends at the Silverdale Detention Center. He also will lose his driver’s license for three years, is not allowed to drink alcohol and can never refuse a breath-alcohol test.
“Make sure you do all of those things,” Hamilton County Judge Rebecca Stern cautioned the defendant. “You’re looking at a long sentence if you don’t.”
Mr. Mann could have been sent to prison for eight to 12 years had Judge Stern chosen to impose her own sentence rather than consider Ms. Bice’s suggestion in court that “he deserves a chance” to get his life together.
The testimony prompted Judge Stern to allow the prosecution and defense to hammer out their own sentencing guidelines.
“We’ll try to come up with something that works for everybody,” Judge Stern said.
Mr. Mann, who said he always has sought to make amends for his actions, later stood outside the courtroom hugging the victim’s family members.
“It’s an amazing day,” he said.
Mr. Mann’s mother, Nellie Mann, thanked the Bice family for giving her son a second chance.
Assistant District Attorney Jay Woods said he, too, believes Mr. Mann’s remorse is sincere.
“That’s something I don’t see very often,” Mr. Woods said.
Mr. Brooks’ death occurred as he was driving to work. Mr. Mann and passenger Bachar Martin were heading back to Dayton, Tenn., after a day of drinking when their SUV struck Mr. Brooks’ small car, according to police. Both were prosecuted for vehicular homicide and driving while intoxicated.
Mr. Mann eventually pleaded guilty in 2007 to vehicular homicide by driver intoxication, while his co-defendant continued to fight accusations that he had been criminally responsible for Mr. Mann’s actions.
A jury acquitted Mr. Martin of vehicular homicide earlier this year.