The Midlands’ top crime stories of 2013

nophillips@thestate.comDecember 29, 2013 

In 2013, many crimes did more than whet our appetites for sensational news.

They led us to demand changes in state law, in policing strategies and in police administration.

They also brought us together to mourn and to remember to hug our children.

Here’s a roundup:

Brett Parker goes to prison

The month-long double murder trial for Brett Parker of Irmo had all of the ingredients of a gripping true-crime story.

Those who followed the trial heard testimony about gambling, guns and sex as well as the gruesome shooting deaths of his wife, Tammy Jo Parker, and his sports betting clerk, Bryan Capnerhurst, in 2012.

The courtroom was packed in May when a jury delivered a guilty verdict on two counts of murder. Parker is serving life without parole in an S.C. prison. He also was convicted in federal court of running an illegal gambling ring.

The television news magazine “48 Hours” will feature the case early next year.

Single mom’s shooting death fuels outrage

The July 1 shooting death of 33-year-old Kelly Hunnewell became a rallying point for jail bond reform in South Carolina.

When Columbia police arrested her alleged attackers, two of the three were out of jail on bond, awaiting trial for other violent crimes. Already upset over the perception that repeat offenders are allowed out of jail too easily, people demanded change.

Mayor Steve Benjamin organized a panel to make suggestions for changes in the system, and several legislators have pledged to tackle the issue during the 2014 General Assembly.

Hunnewell left behind four children. She was working an early morning shift baking bagels for a local cafe. It was a shift she took so she could be home most of the day with her children.

Columbia Police Department turmoil

Just when the city thought the Columbia Police Department finally had stability, its chief disappeared in April on an unexplained, unplanned leave of absence.

When Randy Scott returned a month later, he resigned in a tearful, rambling press conference, citing post-traumatic stress disorder as his reason for leaving.

The police department was put under the command of interim Chief Ruben Santiago, who later was accused of corruption by a former captain. Now, Santiago and the captain, David Navarro, are under investigation by the FBI and the S.C. State Law Enforcement Division. Both men also have sued each other.

Santiago, popular with many neighborhood leaders, began his tenure with support from his bosses at City Hall. But their enthusiasm for his work seems to have faded, as the city launched a national search for a new chief.

The ongoing investigations are under review by a prosecutor, the lawsuits are pending, and City Manager Teresa Wilson, working with a citizens committee, has said she hopes to have a new chief in place by mid-March. Santiago has applied for the job.

Finding Gabbiee

For 357 days, the community hoped and prayed that 15-year-old Gabrielle Swainson would be found alive and well.

On Aug. 8, hearts were broken when Richland County sheriff’s investigators found her in a 5-foot-deep grave near railroad tracks off U.S. 1 in Elgin. They had been led to the site by Freddie Grant, an ex-con who had dated Gabbiee’s mother.

Grant received a 30-year prison sentence in exchange for leading investigators to the teen’s body. He is in federal prison in Kentucky, serving a 17-year sentence for ammunition violations. He will receive credit for his federal sentence once he moves to an S.C. prison.

Swainson will be remembered for her hard work in school, her religious faith, her artistic flair and her favorite color, blue, which became a symbol of hope during the search.

Five Points fury

After complaining for months that violent street gangs were roaming Five Points, merchants and others finally had their worst fears realized when an 18-year-old USC freshman was shot Oct. 13.

Martha Childress of Simpsonville now is learning to adapt to life in a wheelchair after being paralyzed by a stray bullet. She plans to return to campus in the fall 2014 semester.

Her shooting, the latest in a string of gun violence in the popular nightlife area, led USC President Harris Pastides to declare the area unsafe after midnight. Business owners and partygoers accused the Columbia Police Department of being more focused on underage drinking than armed gang members mixing in with crowds.

Multiple community forums were held. Sheriff Leon Lott held an unannounced operation and called out one bar as being the source of the gang problem.

Since then, merchants and clubgoers have reported feeling more safe at night, but the Five Points Association and area neighborhoods continue to push for better enforcement.

Unsolved homicides from 2013

The year closes with several homicide cases remaining open for local police. Anyone with information on the cases should call S.C. Crimestoppers at 1-888-274-6373.

Columbia Police Department

April 14: Quamain Cambrice-Lewis, 23, was shot to death while standing on the front porch of a residence in the 1800 block of Tremain Street, not far from C.A. Johnson High School. Police issued an arrest warrant for Clifton DeAaron Dreher, 17, who remains at large.

Nov. 15: Nathaniel McKelvin III, 21, was shot to death while sitting on the front porch of a home in the 700 block of Martha Street in the Greenview community. McKelvin had just earned his commercial driver’s license and was leaving town that weekend to start a new job in Georgia.

Nov. 16: Willie Gilmore, 22, was found shot and lying on the ground in the 2500 block of Bailey Street. He later died at a hospital.

Richland County Sheriff’s Department

Aug. 31: The death of infant Jaylan Buckley is being investigated as manslaughter by negligence.

Dec. 13: Mark A. Edwards, 49, was found dead on the evening of Dec. 13 in a room at the American Inn on the 1300 block of Garner Lane. He died from a gunshot to the head.

Dec. 14: Charles David Whetstone, 32, was shot in the early morning outside Club Hot Rodz on Bluff Road. He died at the scene.

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