Columbia crime panel gets to work on bond reform in wake of Hunnewell slaying

nophillips@thestate.comJuly 29, 2013 

The mayor’s panel on violent crime wants to have a plan for suggested changes on how bail bonds are awarded before summer’s end.

The 12-member panel held its first meeting Monday, laying the groundwork for potential change. Members listened to presentations on laws that guide judges on bond decisions and explanations of how police and prosecutors cooperate in seeking arrest warrants.

Mayor Steve Benjamin assembled the 12-member panel in reaction to public outrage over the July 1 shooting death of 33-year-old Kelly Hunnewell. Hunnewell, a single mother of four, was killed while working an early morning shift at a commercial bakery on Tommy Circle. Two of the three teens charged in her death were out of jail on bond awaiting trials for other crimes when Hunnewell was shot.

One of those suspects, Lorenzo Young, also had been identified by police as a suspect in a home burglary 10 days before Hunnewell’s death. However, Columbia police and 5th Circuit prosecutors failed to get an arrest warrant for him.

Benjamin has asked the panel to review a longstanding police department policy that requires officers to get approval from a prosecutor before obtaining an arrest warrant. And he wants the group of create suggestions on ways to reform the state’s bond system.

Members were optimistic that they can bring about change, although it’s too early to know exactly what they may propose.

Robert Stewart, a former SLED chief who leads the panel, said he wants to get results as soon as possible. Part of Monday’s meeting included a review of pending legislation that could change the state’s bond laws.

The panel seemed supportive of the review process where police meet with prosecutors before seeking arrest warrants. The Columbia Police Department’s policy may be tweaked, Stewart said.

“The bond situation is going to be a little more complex,” he said.

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