COLUMBIA, SC — On the day that three teenage gang members waived their right to a bond hearing on murder charges, Mayor Steve Benjamin assembled a citizens panel to address violent crime and bond reform.
Lorenzo Young and Troy Stevenson, both 18, and 16-year-old Trenton Barnes did not appear in court Thursday as their attorneys announced that their clients were waiving their bond while retaining the right to apply in the future. The three are each charged with murder, armed robbery, second-degree burglary and other crimes in the July 1 shooting death of bagel baker Kelly Hunnewell.
During the hearing, 5th Circuit assistant solicitor Dolly Justice Garfield told the judge that the case had been highly publicized and pointed out that Benjamin and interim Columbia Police Chief Ruben Santiago were in the courtroom to support police and prosecutors. Hunnewells family also attended the hearing but declined to speak before the judge.
The case has made headlines because of the horror surrounding the killing of the 33-year-old Hunnewell, who worked an early morning shift at a commercial bakery where no money was kept so she could spend days with her four children. The case also stirred outrage when the community learned that two of the three accused shooters were out of jail on bond, accused of other violent crimes.
Also, Young had been identified as a burglary suspect 10 days before Hunnewells death, but police and prosecutors had failed to seek an arrest warrant for him.
After that failure became public, Benjamin announced he would assemble a citizens committee to review law enforcement policies, including a long-standing requirement that police get approval from a prosecutor before asking a judge for an arrest warrant. They are also being asked to suggest changes that strengthen bonds that offenders obtain for release.
On Thursday, Benjamin released the names of his high-profile nine choices to be on the panel. Chairing the panel will be a former chief of the State Law Enforcement Division, Robert Stewart.
The goal, Benjamin said in a press release, is to come up with ways to shut the revolving door that puts violent offenders who terrorize our community back on the street as quickly as we arrest them.
At Thursdays hearing, Benjamin and other city officials introduced themselves to Hunnewells mother, brother, aunt, sister-in-law and 9-year-old son who all attended the bond hearing.
The Hunnewell family asked questions about what to expect during the hearing and how they would know when other court hearings would be held.
Nancy Hunnewell, the victims mother, said the family had learned that Young, and Stevenson, too, were awaiting charges on other crimes when they were arrested for her daughters killing.
To me, thats not justice, she said to a State reporter before the hearing. He should have been locked up to start with.
While the three defendants did not attend the hearing, Garfield and Columbia police investigator Matt McCoy offered new details about the case, including naming Barnes, the 16-year-old whose name was withheld by police because he is a juvenile.
But under S.C. law, prosecutors can try a 16-year-old who is charged with murder as an adult without seeking approval from a family court judge. Knowing that, The State newspaper asked for Barnes identity earlier, but police would not release it.
Hunnewell was found dead on the bakery floor after officers responded to calls reporting gunshots and a womans screams at 3:34 a.m. on July 1, McCoy said.
Police were able to identify the suspects after they returned to their neighborhood, boasting about the crime, McCoy said. An informant gathered information and helped the police locate the defendants houses, he said.
Barnes voluntarily confessed, and Stevenson identified himself as the man wearing a black hoodie in video footage recorded by security cameras at the bakery, McCoy said. Both men helped the police identify Young.
Benjamin said he attended the bond hearing to show support for the Hunnewell family and to send the message that the three defendants should remain behind bars.
We are just offended by repeat offenders continually being released and being on the streets, he said.
Benjamin, whose wife is a circuit court judge, hopes his nine-member committee can make recommendations to the S.C. General Assembly on strengthening the states laws on bonds.
Staff writer Bryan Betts contributed.