Three prisoners wearing jail garb and shackles told a Richland County jury Friday that defendant Lorenzo Young several times told them that he killed baker Kelly Hunnewell in an aborted 2013 armed robbery.
The three men are key prosecution witnesses in the ongoing murder trial because, if believed by the jury, their testimony offers clear evidence that Young shot Hunnewell in the early morning hours of July 1, 2013, as she worked a morning shift preparing bagels for a downtown Columbia eatery.
Young’s alleged statements, in which he acknowledged shooting Hunnewell, took place on separate occasions at the Richland County jail, where all the prisoners were awaiting trial. One of them has since pleaded guilty to armed robberies and is now in state prison.
Later Friday, outside of court, the prosecution’s case suffered a potential blow when another key witness announced through his lawyer, Aimee Zmroczek, that he will refuse to testify for the state. The witness, Troy Stevenson, is being held at the county jail.
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Police have charged Stevenson with murder in Hunnewell’s shooting death and the attempted robbery. Although Zmroczek would not say why Stevenson had suddenly refused to testify against his brother and his friend, a possible plea bargain with Stevenson may have fallen through. Prosecutors declined comment.
According to witnesses and statements at the trial, Stevenson had followed Young and an accomplice, Young’s co-defendant, Trenton Barnes, to the bakery where Hunnewell was making bagels. Evidence so far is conflicting: different versions of events have Stevenson either trying to stop Barnes, his younger half-brother, from taking part in the robbery, or helping out in the robbery.
Young and Barnes have been on trial since Wednesday. By Friday afternoon, the prosecution had put up 29 witnesses and was expected to continue putting on evidence Monday.
The alleged statements by Young to three prisoners in which he acknowledged shooting Hunnewell all took place in separate one-on-one encounters at the Richland County jail.
“He (Young) said the police don’t have anything because we had on masks and gloves,’ ” Michael “Big Unk” Peterson testified. “He said, ‘They can’t prove nothing.’ ”
Peterson, 47, said he then told Young, “The lady had small kids. You done messed up. If you get Luck Campbell, it will be real bad.”
Hunnewell, 33, left behind four school-age children. Campbell – whom Peterson referred to – is a veteran 5th Judicial Circuit assistant prosecutor who has won numerous convictions in local murder cases. Campbell is, in fact, the lead prosecutor in Young’s ongoing trial.
In cross-examination, defense attorney Mark Schnee, who represents Barnes, tried to discredit Peterson by asking him if he believed his testimony might get him a lighter sentence for pending crimes against him, which include murder.
“Not necessarily,” answered Peterson.
“So you’re doing this out of the goodness of your heart?” Schnee asked sarcastically.
“Actually,” replied Peterson as the jury looked on, “my mother died when I was 13 years old. I know how it feels.”
Another prisoner, Michael Schaefer, 29, testified he had been with Young at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center last New Year’s Eve and “was feeling kind of remorseful, and I said, ‘I shouldn’t have robbed that bank.’ ”
Young shared his sentiment, Schaefer said, telling him, “I shouldn’t have shot that (female expletive).”
Schaefer’s entrance into the courtroom prompted one of the few moments of courtroom laughter. As Judge Robert Hood began to give Schaefer instructions on what to avoid saying on the witness stand, Hood prefaced his remarks by politely saying, “I’ve never seen you before in my life, but ...”
Schaefer interrupted, telling the judge: “Yes, sir, Your Honor, you sentenced me to prison right here in this courtroom.” Schaefer was sentenced in July and is in state prison.
Hood laughed and apologized, making it clear he was apologizing for not recognizing him, but not for the 11-year sentence he gave Schaefer in July for three armed robberies.
Earlier, another detainee testified that Young had confessed to him, too, in the jail’s law library.
Alfred Wright, 34, told the jury that Young had queried him about the “Stand Your Ground” defense, a legal claim in South Carolina in which someone can legally shoot another if they feel their life is in danger. However, robbers cannot use this claim if they feel a victim who fights back might endanger them.
“I told him (Young) he could try Stand Your Ground, but he would have a better chance with voluntary manslaughter,” testified Wright, a Hammond High School graduate who attended the University of South Carolina.
Like Peterson, Wright is facing murder charges.
It remains to be seen how much weight the jury will give the testimony of two accused suspects who potentially stand to gain lighter treatment from the 5th Circuit Solicitor’s office for their cooperation. Schaefer is already serving time in prison, but could conceivably get some kind of deal for cooperation. However, on the witness stand, he denied any deal was in the works.
Although prosecutors played a video of Hunnewell being shot, the two intruders in the video wore hoods and could not be identified conclusively. Prosecutors have not yet introduced an alleged murder weapon, and it is unknown whether they will.
They have presented police witnesses, however, who testified they found ammunition and gunshot residue on gloves in the apartment where Young spent time.
The case could go to the jury by next Tuesday or Wednesday.