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)."
Judge Robert Hood sentenced Young to life without parole in the shooting of Hunnewell as she worked in a bakery around 3:45 a.m. on a rainy summer night last year. Hood also imposed maximum sentences of 20 years for the attempted armed robbery and 15 years for second-degree burglary. The judge postponed a sentence on a kidnapping conviction.
"Thank you for taking every piece of love I ever had," 14-year-old Amber Hunnewell said in a handwritten letter read in court by a victim advocate. "I do not want you to get the death penalty. I want you to rot in jail."
The courtroom was silent as the verdicts by the eight-woman, four-man jury was announced. The judge has forewarned relatives of the defendants and the Hunnewell family that he would not allow outbursts.
Hood said Barnes will be sentenced next week, after a mental health evaluation and because he's entitled to a separate sentencing hearing because Barnes was 16 at the time of the crime. The judge cited a S.C. Supreme Court ruling issued last week about a "mitigation hearing" for young offenders.
Lawyers for defendants Young and Barnes on Tuesday made final pleas to find the pair not guilty. Prosecutors presented a strong circumstantial case that lacked any direct evidence placing the two at the scene or that produced a murder weapon.
Jurors began deliberating about 11 a.m. and lawyers learned of a verdict around 1:15 p.m.
A security video camera recorded the lethal confrontation as men in hooded sweatshirts with their faces covered and wearing gloves burst through the propped-open door of the establishment and overpowered Hunnewell. She tried to defend herself with a baking spoon but was fatally shot in the throat.
When they pulled that trigger, each of them multiple times, causing her to drown in her own blood, they became killers,” Nicole Simpson, an assistant solicitor in the 5th Circuit Solicitor's office, told jurors.
She urged the jury to remember key testimony from Yolanda Coleman, Young's girlfriend and mother of his two children, who testified that Young had hidden a gun in a baby crib on the day of the slaying.
Barnes’ mother, Latoya Barnes, also identified her son, 16 at the time of the crime, by the gray hoodie he was wearing in a still photograph taken from the video saying, “I know my kid’s build. I know my kids from they fingers to they toes.”
But defense attorneys reminded jurors that no weapons were ever recovered and no witness placed the pair at the scene. “They claim Lorenzo Young had a Glock, but they didn’t produce a weapon,” public defender Stephen Krzyston said. Shell casings at the murder scene matched ammunition found under Young’s bed, but Krzyston said the ammunition could fit any number of weapons.
The defense also dismissed the testimony of three jailhouse informants who said Young had confessed to the crime, saying the three likely were hoping to obtain lighter sentences. They took issue with a March 2014 letter Barnes wrote to his mother from jail fingering Young as the shooter and indicating his 19-year-old half-brother, Troy Stevenson, who also faces charges in connection with the crime, was innocent.
“The government is putting that letter up for you to believe but they don’t believe it,” Mark Schnee, Barnes’ attorney, said.
The case has endured a series of shifting alliances as Stevenson was at one point expected to testify for the government; another witness, Donald Moore, came forth initially to police with key information but later balked and changed his account.
Stevenson, whom authorities believe might have served as the lookout on the night of the slaying, will be tried separately on the same charges.
Out of the jury’s hearing, prosecutors have said the defendants and some of the witnesses are members or associates of the Bloods street gang.
Prosecutor Luck Campbell told the jury the defense will claim that community and media pressure caused a rush to make arrests. But she said there are enough connections to make a conviction.
Simpson reminded jurors of Kelly Hunnewell’s last words - “No! No! No!” - and told them, under S.C. law it didn’t matter whether Barnes or Stevenson posed as the lookout, noting, “The hand of one is the hand of all.”