Panel discusses bond changes in wake of Hunnewell murder

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The circumstances around the July 1 murder of Kelly Lynn Hunnewell were so inexplicable and so awful that city leaders wanted to take a closer look to see whether anything could have been done that might have prevented what happened.

Hunnewell, a 33-year-old mother of four, had been shot to death as she worked an early morning job in a bagel bakery.

Police arrested three teenaged suspects. It turned out two of them were out on bond in connection with previous crimes. In one case, a suspect had been under investigation for a burglary a week and a half earlier. However, he had not been pulled back into the criminal justice system.

Monday's meeting came as a result of the outrage over the suspect's release. It was called together by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and chaired by former SLED Chief Robert Stewart.

"We are a panel to look at policy and process and to see what our abilities are of improving that in any way," said Stewart. "We're not an investigative body. We need to understand we are not an investigative body, so we will not be looking at the details of active or formal criminal cases."

The group is looking at possible changes in procedures for granting bond, though municipal judge Carl Solomon says it's important to remember those procedures must also preserve the rights of the defendant.

"Number one, the defendant has a list of rights," said Soloman. "Most of which have to be relayed to the defendant at that time, including the presumption of innocence. This becomes a major issue because when you're looking at danger to the community, and there is no prior conviction for anything and you're looking at a crime that on it's face could represent that, there are several things you have to balance."

One possible problem is bail bonds that could allow a suspect to pay minimal installments to a bondsman, reducing incentives to show up in court or stay out of further trouble.

"If you don't have that financial outlay and you just made a nominal payment every week, then I think you've got less motivation to adhere to the conditions of your bond," said chairman and former prosecutor Robert Bolchoz.

The panel is tentatively scheduled to meet next Monday and possibly have findings and recommendations before the end of August.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved.