Baker’s slaying

Hunnewell slaying suspects waive bond; Citizen panel to study police practices

nophillips@thestate.comJuly 18, 2013 

  • The panel members Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin on Thursday released his nine choices for a citizens committee that will recommend ways to keep career criminals off the streets, review whether police officers should stop seeking approval from prosecutors before getting arrest warrants and suggest changes to strengthen state bond laws. The group’s first session will take place July 29. The members are:

    Former State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart (chairman) – Stewart retired as SLED chief in 2007 after 33 years with the agency and more than 40 years in law enforcement. He was SLED chief for 20 years, serving four governors representing both parties. In addition, Stewart served as state homeland security adviser and was elected to the executive committee of the National Governors Association’s Homeland Security Advisors Council. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the FBI National Executive Institute.

    Sheriff Leon Lott – Lott’s career in the Richland County Sheriff’s Department began in 1975 when he joined the department as a patrol officer, advancing through the ranks to various positions including criminal investigator, narcotics agent, lieutenant and captain of the narcotics division, administrative captain, uniform patrol captain, and watch commander. In 1993, he left the department to take over the St. Matthews Police Department as chief but returned after being elected sheriff in 1996. Lott is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, FBI National Executive Institute and Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He has received numerous honors including the Order of the Palmetto and is a former S.C. Sheriff of the Year.

    Robert Bolchoz – Bolchoz worked as a prosecutor for 5 years in the 9th Judicial Circuit in Charleston, serving as deputy solicitor as well as chief prosecutor for the Trident Narcotics Task Force. He was also appointed special assistant U.S. Attorney and prosecuted a number of public corruption cases. He and his wife, Cheryl, moved to Columbia in 1995, where Bolchoz served as chief deputy state attorney general and supervised the prosecution of numerous State Grand Jury matters while managing the attorney general’s office.

    Amy Cue – A University of South Carolina graduate with a master’s degree in social work, Cue serves as regional director for Growing Home Southeast, a private nonprofit which oversees programs for at-risk children and families in the Midlands. In addition, she has served as Richland County Court-appointed special advocate guardian ad litem and lead clinical specialist for Lutheran Family Services in the Carolinas.

    Johnny Gasser – A local attorney and co-owner of the firm Harris & Gasser, where his practice focuses primarily on federal, state, and local criminal defense, Gasser has more than 20 years’ experience as a state and federal prosecutor. He served in the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s Office for nearly 16 years, nine of which as deputy solicitor, and has also served as U.S. Attorney and worked as a federal prosecutor in a variety of capacities.

    Rev. Chris Leevy Johnson – A widely respected and recognized community leader, Johnson is the campus pastor of Brookland Baptist Church, Northeast and president of Leevy’s Funeral Home. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he holds dual degrees from the University of South Carolina, including a Ph.D. in American history with a concentration in African-American religion.

    Neal Lourie – With more than two decades of experience in criminal law, Lourie is widely respected for his work as a prosecutor and defense attorney. From 1993 to 2000, he served in the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office, where he prosecuted violent criminals and drug dealers as special city prosecutor for Columbia. In 2000, he left the solicitor’s office to open the Lourie Law Firm, where he currently litigates civil, workers compensation and criminal matters.

    Carl L. Solomon – Solomon is a municipal judge for Columbia and a practicing attorney in state and federal courts. He is a former president of the South Carolina Bar and has served on many committees regarding the legal system in our state, including the S.C. Supreme Court Commission on the Profession. He has represented defendants and served as a prosecutor for the attorney general’s criminal domestic violence program.

    Gregory Torrales – Owner of the LaTorr Consulting Firm, Torrales is a long-time community leader and advocate. He currently serves as president of the South Carolina Hispanic Leadership Council and has been instrumental in creating new public safety partnerships between law enforcement and South Carolina’s Hispanic community.

— 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. Hunnewell’s 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 Hunnewell’s 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 Thursday’s hearing, Benjamin and other city officials introduced themselves to Hunnewell’s 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 victim’s mother, said the family had learned that Young, and Stevenson, too, were awaiting charges on other crimes when they were arrested for her daughter’s killing.

“To me, that’s 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 woman’s 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 state’s laws on bonds.

Staff writer Bryan Betts contributed.

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