Convicted teen killer Trenton Barnes of Columbia was sentenced to 50 years in prison without parole Friday by Circuit Judge Robert Hood.
In a surprising turn, prosecutors and the judge identified Barnes, now 18, as the gunman who fired the fatal shot that killed Columbia bagel baker Kelly Hunnewell in 2013. Barnes could have gotten life without parole.
As it is, he’ll be eligible for parole in 2063, when he is 66 years old.
The hearing also revealed that Barnes had a violent juvenile record.
Barnes was found guilty last month of murder, burglary and attempted armed robbery by a Richland County jury. The jury also found co-defendant Lorenzo Young, now 20, guilty. Young is serving a sentence of life without parole. Young was out of jail on bond on violent charges when he and Barnes attacked Hunnewell.
Friday’s hearing was historic. It was the first time that a South Carolina judge held a separate hearing after the trial to listen to arguments from the prosecution and defense about what kind of sentence a defendant should receive, since Barnes was just 16 when the crime occurred.
Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the S.C. Supreme Court have ruled that judges must hold a separate hearing in which they weigh facts and circumstances for a juvenile facing a possible life sentence. That’s because the law sees most juveniles as immature and having a chance to be rehabilitated.
“The S.C. Supreme Court has made it very clear that I am required to take into account how children are different,” Hood said. “It will be a very unique situation where a juvenile qualifies for life without parole.”
That said, Hood made it clear that substantial evidence showed Barnes is dangerous and should be put away for a long time.
Prosecutors told Hood:
Barnes delayed Friday’s hearing 20 minutes because he at first refused to enter the courtroom garbed in pink.
Barnes expressed no remorse for Hunnewell’s death and declined an invitation by Hood to make a statement.
According to prosecutor Nicole Simpson, Barnes fired the death shot.
“He is the one who we believe fired the fatal shot without hesitation – we’re just bringing that to your attention, thank you, your honor,” Simpson said.
Hood agreed. Barnes was one of the perpetrators “directly responsible” for Hunnewell’s killing and “more than likely fired the fatal shot ... . This is not a situation where he is doing something else indirectly, like driving the getaway car.”
Hood also noted that Barnes had a chance to go straight after being found with the Luger. “This was a violent felony robbery in the middle of the night, perpetrated upon a single female,” Hood said. “This particular act was truly senseless, and the death of Ms. Hunnewell did not have to occur.”
Mark Schnee, Barnes’ defense lawyer, had pleaded with Hood to give the teen killer a 32-year sentence.
If in fact Barnes killed Hunnewell, Schnee said, it was not intentional. “That person was not firing with an intent to kill. That person was terrified based on the actions of Ms. Hunnewell (who was resisting) .... I’m not blaming Ms. Hunnewell, but the person was not acting with a depraved heart or indifference to human life.”
Moreover, Schnee said, Barnes has a IQ of 69, meaning he is less intelligent than 98 percent of the human race.
After court, Schnee said he will appeal.
“I’m disappointed. There were things that were not considered as much as I thought they should be, such as his IQ,” Schnee said.
Since this is the first S.C. case of an individualized hearing in a juvenile’s sentencing, it will be reviewed by higher courts, who will look at matters such as whether Hood properly took all the aspects of Barnes’ situation into account, such as whether he could be rehabilitated.
During the hearing, prosecutors also mentioned Barnes’ older brother, Antonio Barnes, 21, who is serving a 22-year sentence in the S.C. Department of Corrections for manslaughter.
Another brother, Troy Stevenson, has also been charged in Hunnewell’s murder. He has not yet been tried.
Fifth Circuit Solicitor Dan Johnson said later, “The jury spoke, the judge has now spoken, and our hearts continue to go out to the Hunnewell family.”
Hunnewell family members, present at the hearing, declined to speak publicly.