Convicted killer Lorenzo Young, 20, will spend the rest of his life in prison, while a younger co-defendant will have to wait until next week to learn his punishment in the July 2013 slaying of Kelly Hunnewell, a mother of four.
A Richland County jury on Wednesday took about two hours to find Young and Trenton Barnes, 17, guilty of murder, kidnapping, second-degree burglary and attempted armed robbery.
As Young was led in shackles from the courtroom, he told reporters, “I’m innocent. I ain’t done (expletive).” Moments before, a prosecutor told Judge Robert Hood that Young had spit on a bailiff during the trial and on a county jail guard during Young’s 16 months awaiting trial.
Those brief statements by Young were his only words after Hood handed down consecutive sentences of life for murder, 20 years for attempted armed robbery and 15 years for second-degree burglary. All three are maximum punishments. Hood did not issue a sentence on the kidnapping conviction.
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The courtroom, ringed by Richland County deputies, was hushed as the verdicts by the eight-woman, four-man jury were announced. The judge had forewarned the audience, including relatives of the defendants and the Hunnewell family, that he would not allow outbursts.
The stiff sentences followed Hood hearing a letter written by Hunnewell’s eldest child, Amber Hunnewell, 14. She was in court with her family, but the handwritten letter was read by a victim advocate with the prosecutor’s office.
“Thank you for taking every piece of love I ever had,” Amber Hunnewell wrote. “I do not want you to get the death penalty. I want you to rot in jail.
“My mother never did anything to you ... So what was your motive? Whatever it was, I hope you know that you left a 6-year-old girl, an 8-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy, and a 14-year-old girl alone in this harsh world.”
The children have been split up. The youngest are living with their father, while the elder ones are with Nancy Hunnewell, their maternal grandmother, in the Orangeburg County town of Elloree, Nancy Hunnewell said.
Victor Hunnewell, who turns 11 Friday, talked and played with his relatives as the trial came to its climax. He pretended to be a TV reporter and seemed unaware of the gravity of what was happening around him.
Throughout much of the trial, Young had appeared upbeat, grinning and waving at young men his age who sat in the audience and talking with his attorneys and his mother, Tanika Brown, who attended daily.
Young’s defense team, attorneys with the county public defender’s office, asked Hood for new, separate trials – based in part on how swiftly the jury reached its verdicts. The judge rejected their request as he has repeatedly during the trial.
Young’s lawyers made no comments after court.
But a private attorney who represented Barnes, Mark Schnee, said he plans to appeal the conviction and the eventual sentences, even as Schnee prepares for Barnes’ sentencing hearing on Tuesday.
Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that offenders who were younger than 18 at the time of a crime and facing life without parole are entitled to separate sentencing hearings. A judge would listen to defendants’ family, medical and mental health histories along with other aspects of their lives to determine whether their ages entitle them to lesser sentences. The state justices’ decision stems from a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the sentencing of juvenile offenders.
Hunnewell, 33, was working her normal early morning shift baking bagels, cookies and other treats to be sold at a downtown Columbia shop. Around 3:45 a.m. on that rainy summer morning, two armed men in hoodies, masks and gloves burst into the bakery near Beltline Boulevard. A third man stood as a lookout at a door that was propped open, apparently to relieve the heat of the ovens.
Hunnewell tried to defend herself using a large, silver cooking spoon. A neighbor testified she heard Hunnewell’s terrified screams, “No. No. No.”
She was shot in the throat – at least one of the guns used hollow-point bullets, according to testimony in the trial that began Nov. 10. Hunnewell collapsed and bled to death, a pathologist said. Her wound was so severe no one could have saved her, pathologist Amy Durso testified.
Security video from four cameras captured the crime, which jurors were shown.
The strong circumstantial case put up by 5th Circuit prosecutors did not include a murder weapon or direct evidence that Young and Barnes are the men seen on camera.
A third defendant, Troy Stevenson, is to be tried separately. Stevenson is Barnes’ older half-brother and announced last week through his attorney that he would not testify in the trial of his brother and Young.
The jury, which was evenly split between African-American and Caucasian jurors, got the case involving a white victim and black defendants just before 11 a.m. Jurors sifted through 464 items entered as evidence, including video recordings from the bakery and from a mobile phone used by Young that shows him holding a handgun similar to the one authorities said was used in the crime.
Hood told jurors before deliberations began that to find Young or Barnes guilty of murder, they must be persuaded that they acted with “malignant recklessness” or “total disregard for human life.” But the judge also advised the jury that both young men are protected by “a robe of righteousness,” commonly called a presumption of innocence.
A letter that Barnes wrote to his mother, Latoya Barnes, from jail on March 31, 2014, was admitted into evidence. In it, Barnes blamed Young as the instigator and portrayed his brother as having a lesser role.
Yet conflicting evidence in the trial of Barnes and Young characterized Stevenson’s role as either trying to stop his younger brother or helping in the robbery.
Judge Hood said Tuesday he would not admit Barnes’ statement to police but that the substance of what Barnes told detectives was in the March letter.
Schnee argued that what his client, Barnes, told Columbia police detectives Matthew McCoy and Sgt. Kevin Reese was improperly obtained because Barnes did not sign a statement that he was waiving his right against self-incrimination, among his Miranda rights.
Reese recounted the interrogation Tuesday outside the jury’s presence. “He asked, ‘Instead of a lawyer, could I have my mama,’ ” the sergeant said. Barnes, then 16, also asked, “ ‘Can I sign it when my mama gets here?’ ”
Barnes told detectives, “I was just supposed to sit and look out (if someone was coming),” according to Reese’s statements in court Tuesday.
When she got to see her son at the police station, Latoya Barnes told him to tell the truth, McCoy said. Barnes had gone to police headquarters on his own without having been charged but following a police search of the family home, the detectives said.
Schnee asked McCoy about an instance where the detective prayed with Barnes, asked him if he attended church and whether he understood repentance. That occurred when a police recording device was not running, the detective said.
The defense attorney said those statements amounted to Barnes being “de-Mirandized.”