COLUMBIA, SC — Whenever Amy Cue reads a news report about a violent crime in Columbia, she asks herself, What was he out for?
A social worker who lives in north Columbia, Cue has become well-versed in the names of burglars, robbers and even killers with long rap sheets. She is one of a small group of residents who are so concerned about suspects who are charged with other crimes after being released from jail on bond that group members keep lists of names, attend bond hearings and write letters when they recognize a repeat offender.
So when Cue heard that 33-year-old Kelly Hunnewell had been shot to death in the early morning hours of July 1 after starting her shift at a bakery, she again asked herself the question. Sure enough, two of the three accused killers were out on bond while awaiting trial for violent crimes.
Hunnewells is the most recent high-profile killing in the Midlands involving violent suspects who have bonded out. The death of the mother of four has become a tipping point for residents who have watched a march of violent criminal suspects wreak havoc on their neighborhoods.
How many more people have to die before someone does something for change? Cue said.
Now, Cue has been asked to participate in the change. She is one of nine people appointed to Mayor Steve Benjamins panel on violent crime and bond reform. The group will meet for the first time July 29 with the mission of reviewing the Columbia Police Departments policies and recommending changes for bond reform.
Cue is the lone woman on the panel, and one of three who doesnt have a background in the criminal justice system. Their challenge will be to come up with suggestions for change and then press politicians and public officials to put them in practice.
We wont have the power to change anything, said Chris Leevy Johnson, a pastor who is on the panel. My prayer is that our work will be acted upon by the people with power.
In his announcement to introduce the panel, Benjamin said the community needs to stop the revolving door that puts violent offenders back on the streets almost as soon as they are arrested. He expects the panel to make recommendations that could lead to a change in the states bond laws.
Thats what Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott wants. He said the panel needs to look at legislation that would make it nearly impossible for someone on bond for one felony to be given a second bond after being charged with another felony.
Theyve given up that privilege of having a bond set on them once theyve violated that first bond, Lott said. Violent people need to be kept in. They dont deserve a bond after they get out the first time.
In the bakery shooting, one of the alleged killers, Lorenzo Young, had been released from jail after a series of bonds were combined and reduced even though the 5th Circuit Solicitors office earlier had asked another judge to deny any bond.
Benjamin has assigned the panel a second task in response to the revelation that Young also had been identified as a suspect in a Heathwood neighborhood burglary 10 days before the bakery shooting. The Columbia Police Department and 5th Circuit Solicitors office failed to get an arrest warrant for the suspect, Lorenzo Young, and have been criticized for it.
Robert Bolchoz, a Columbia attorney with experience as a prosecutor, volunteered to serve on the panel because of that failure.
Receiving a bond is a constitutional right for people accused of a crime, and there always will be people who receive them and then commit more crime, Bolchoz said.
We have to live with an imperfect system, but we dont have to live with incompetency in an imperfect system, he said.
The panel should not have a knee-jerk reaction to the Hunnewell killing, he said. Instead, it should revisit the case, look at actions and study the law.
You have to figure out whats wrong before you look at what the solution is, he said.
The bond issue already was under the microscope from a small but determined group of Columbia residents Cue is working with. The group has been making noise at community forums, in courtrooms and in private meetings with public officials for more than two years.
Cue got involved when she moved to the College Place neighborhood in Eau Claire in 2008 and quickly learned about a man she described as a neighborhood nuisance.
If it wasnt nailed down and it was outside, it was his, she said.
The so-called nuisance repeatedly was arrested and released from jail only to steal something else.
But the seriousness of the bond issue increased in September 2010 when Cues home was broken into. In that case, David Wesley Watson, a suspect in 27 burglaries, was arrested and released on bond. Over the next nine months, Cue would watch as Watson was arrested and released four more times.
The fifth time Watson was arrested, it was for murder.
He was the ringleader of a group who shot and killed Steven Fowler in June 2011 as Fowler was leaving work at a Papa Johns pizza parlor in northeast Richland County. Watson is serving 50 years in prison for the crime.
Since then, Cue increasingly has grown frustrated with the judicial system.
Somethings got to change, she said.
Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307. Staff writer Cassie Cope contributed.