Crime & Courts

Kershaw sheriff slams ‘bleeding heart’ judge

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews. File photo.
Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews. File photo. The State

Kershaw County Sheriff Jim Matthews on Friday slammed a controversial circuit court judge for letting a man with a long criminal history walk away from a courthouse.

Matthews accused Circuit Judge Alison Lee of being one of the “bleeding heart judges” who continually give repeat offenders a “slap on the wrist.”

“No regard whatsoever was given to the numerous victims in all of these crimes,” Matthews said in a news release. “Not only are the people of Kershaw County disgusted by our criminal justice system, people everywhere have had it. This is not an isolated incident.”

Lee was roundly criticized in 2013 when she reduced bond on two accused violent criminals, one of whom, Lorenzo Young, later was charged with killing Kelly Hunnewell while she worked at a bakery. Hunnewell was the mother of four children.

Richland County authorities, including Sheriff Leon Lott, joined in the criticism at the time.

Lee, an African-American, is a niece of the late, renown civil rights attorney and federal judge Matthew Perry. An effort to reach Lee on Friday was unsuccessful.

Matthews, a white Republican, used the June 8 sentencing of Tyreek Lorenzo Bush-Robinson as an example of what he perceives as Lee’s continued lenience with repeat offenders.

The sheriff told The State newspaper Friday that he became aware of Lee’s race only when he saw Lee’s photograph as he read an online version of the newspaper’s reporting of his comments.

He stressed that race played no role in his criticism – his first of a circuit court judge. He and his deputies have grown frustrated in dealing with Bush-Robinson, Matthews said.

Bush-Robinson has seven arrests dating to 2014, when he was first arrested in Richland County on charges of breaking into motor vehicles, Matthews said. Bush-Robinson was sentenced then under the youthful offender act, which, in his case, meant no jail time.

A shoplifting and possession of marijuana charge later also resulted in no jail time, Matthews said.

Bush-Robinson later faced charges of receiving stolen goods, possession of a stolen pistol, unlawful carrying twice, one of which was a stolen firearm last year, Matthews said.

Two arrests followed on charges of receiving stolen goods, possession of a stolen pistol and unlawful carrying of a pistol in 2016, Matthews said.

In October 2016, Bush-Robinson was arrested on another unlawful possession of a firearm, which was stolen, the sheriff said.

On June 8, Bush-Robinson went before Lee on all of his pending charges in Kershaw County. A plea had been negotiated between the prosecutor and his attorney that would have imprisoned Bush-Robinson for least four years and as many as eight years, Matthews said.

But Bush-Robinson’s attorney, George Speedy of Camden, read a statement that brought Lee to tears, according to the deputy who was in the courtroom, Matthews said. Speedy could not be reached Friday afternoon.

Lee “ignored” the four- to eight-year agreement, and sentenced Bush-Robinson to three years probation, Matthews said.

Counting the amount of time Bush-Robinson spent in jail awaiting his court date, Lee’s sentence allowed him to walk away, the sheriff said.

“The officers and the assistant solicitor were stunned,” Matthews said. “Bush-Robinson walked out of the courthouse a free man … again.

“If anyone deserved to be in tears, it would be the victims, not the judge,” Matthews said. “Judge Lee’s actions are disgraceful and a slap in the face to the law abiding citizens of Kershaw County who have been and will surely be victimized again by Bush-Robinson.”

Matthews said he previously has criticized magistrate judges. He spoke publicly Friday because he felt the public needed to know what law enforcement officers face when they go into court.

Bush-Robinson has been frustrating his deputies for some time, Matthews said. “He has been a thorn on our side. This was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.”