A call for justice

Marchers to SC statehouse demand bond reform for violent crimes

nophillips@thestate.comAugust 17, 2013 

— A photo on the back of the T-shirts said it all Saturday morning at a State House 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 violently July 1 while working alone in a commercial bakery.

The shirts were worn by the nearly 15 family members of Kelly Hunnewell, whose death inspired rally participants to demand change in perceived problems in the judicial system, including how suspects are given bond.

“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 on an unseasonably cool and misty August morning.

Hunnewell’s shooting death shocked the community, especially after it was learned that two of the three arrested in her slaying had been released from jail on bond while awaiting trial on other violent crimes.

“We want to give them bond to be fair to the criminals, but what’s fair to the victims?” said state Sen. Katrina Shealy, a Lexington independent.

Hunnewell’s was not the first homicide in which allegedly violent suspects were out on bond, but her death has been a tipping point for the community. Hunnewell was gunned down while working an early morning shift baking bagels and other treats for Carolina Cafe. No money was in the bakery, and police have said her attackers intended to rob a next-door bar that already had closed.

To further the outrage, one of those arrested also had been identified 10 days earlier as a suspect in a burglary in the upscale Heathwood neighborhood, but Columbia police and the 5th Circuit solicitor’s office had failed to get an arrest warrant for him. The victims of that Heathwood burglary also attended Saturday’s rally.

The situation led Mayor Steve Benjamin to form a community panel to suggest ideas for state bond reform and to recommend changes to Columbia Police Department policy.

Saturday’s rally, which was organized by Shealy, began with a march that started outside Carolina Cafe. Hunnewell’s family led the walkers to the front steps of the State House.

There, politicians and crime victims made a call for change.

State Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, said laws already exist to keep repeat offenders from receiving bonds. In South Carolina, legislators elect judges, Quinn reminded the crowd, and he pledged to look at the records of judges as they come up for re-appointment.

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

Wilson also pointed out that the state constitution already says that a criminal who is arrested for a crime while on bond for a previous offense is not guaranteed a second bond.

Two mothers also spoke about the toll violent crime had taken on their families.

“We still struggle with anger every day,” said Vicki Strange, whose son was beaten and left for dead in Five Points in 2011 and whose family has become a voice for crime victims. “Anger can be used for good.”

Shealy, too, urged the crowd to channel their passion and emotion toward change.

“It’s time for you to start asking the hard questions,” she said. “You ask the judges. The laws are there. Why are the criminals back on the streets?”

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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