Columbia rally attendees remember Kelly Hunnewell, call for justice

nophillips@thestate.comAugust 17, 2013 

— A photo on the back of the T-shirts said it all Saturday morning at a rally to demand reform in the criminal justice system.

“No bonds for criminal violence,” was the slogan paired with a picture of four children whose mother died July 1 while working alone in a commercial bakery.

The shirts were worn by the nearly 20 family members of Kelly Hunnewell, whose death inspired the rally where participants demanded change in how suspects in violent crime are given bond, along with other perceived problems in the judicial system.

“These are all the words you need to read and the only photograph you need to see to know what needs to be done,” said S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson.

More than 50 people showed up for the rally, which started at the corner of Pendleton and Sumter streets on a unseasonably cool and misty August morning. The rally was organized by S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy, a Lexington independent.

Hunnewell's family spoke, as did family members of other crime victims.

They said their experiences have led them to believe the judicial system favors suspects over victims. Two mothers spokes passionately and emotionally about the toll violent crime had taken on their families.

“We still struggle with anger very day,” said Vicky Strange, whose son was beaten and left for dead in Five Points in 2011. “Anger can be used for good.”

While speeches touched on multiple issues, the main message was bond reform. Two of Hunnewell's three alleged attackers were out of jail on bond while awaiting trials for other violent crimes.

S.C. Rep. Rick Quinn pledged to place more scrutiny on judges and their records in setting bond for violent criminals. In South Carolina, judges are elected by the legislature.

“Judges ought to be held accountable,” Quinn said.

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The July 1 shooting death of the single mother as she worked alone in a Columbia bakery continues to draw public outrage over crime and the state’s bond system.

A march and rally is planned for Saturday from Carolina Cafe on the corner of Sumter and Pendleton streets to the State House in memory of Kelly Hunnewell. The 33-year-old was a cafe employee who was gunned down while beginning her shift at an off-site bakery where bagels and other treats were made.

Organizers are using the rally to voice their concerns about violence and an ongoing pattern of people getting arrested for violent crimes while out of jail on bond for other offenses. Rally speakers want to talk about juvenile crime, bond reform and other problems in the criminal justice system that have come to light since Hunnewell’s death.

S.C. Sen. Katrina Shealy, an independent from Lexington County, organized the rally. S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson is among the other politicians scheduled to speak. Vicky and John Strange, the parents of a teenager who was severely beaten by eight people in June 2011 in Five Points, also were to speak.

Crime victims, including Hunnewell’s family, attended.

“I’m just so frustrated,” Shealy said. “It seems like every time I turn on the TV, someone is getting shot.”

Three teenagers, who have been identified by police as gang members, have been charged in Hunnewell’s death.

Two of her three attackers were out of jail on bond while awaiting trials for other crimes. And one of them had been identified 10 days earlier as a suspect in a burglary, but Columbia police and the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office had failed to obtain an arrest warrant for him.

The crime and the revelations about her attackers’ criminal histories have caused a community outrage that has not simmered down.

People especially were sympathetic to Hunnewell’s case because she was a single mother of four who worked an early morning shift so she could be home with her children during the day.

Since her death, Mayor Steve Benjamin has organized a panel to discuss suggestions for state bond reform and to recommend changes to Columbia police department policy.

Lauren Schlueter, one of the owners of Carolina Cafe, hopes the rally continues to galvanize the public. She believes that Hunnewell would be alive if law enforcement and judges had properly done their jobs.

“It fires me up because Kelly’s death was senseless and avoidable,” Schlueter said.

Reach Phillips at (803) 312-4300.

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