City Watch

Kelly Hunnewell Remembered, Bond Reform Forgotten

By Kevin Fisher
Wednesday, July 2, 2014

“Kelly Hunnewell was determined to build a good life for her kids. The 33-year-old Columbia woman, shot to death as she worked alone in a hot bakery, returned to her native South Carolina in late 2010 after separating from her husband, rented a little house in Eau Claire and worked in the pre-dawn hours in hopes of moving up in the business.” 
— The State, July 13, 2013

The above is from a fine story by Dawn Hinshaw and Carolyn Click headlined “Kelly Hunnewell: A Life Cut Short.” Other excerpts from the article are highlighted throughout this column.

A year has passed since the July 1 murder of Kelly Hunnewell.  The horrendous crime prompted public outrage, political rhetoric — and not much else.

Because her killers were out on bond for other violent crimes when they took her life for nothing (literally, as there was no money to steal at the bakery facility), elected officials offered bold statements and promises of reform.

Mayor Steve Benjamin appointed a high-profile bond reform panel. Richland Reps. Kirkman Finlay and Leon Howard held a news conference calling for changes in state bond law. Attorney General Alan Wilson asked for funding for extra prosecutors in bond court.

“Hunnewell and her four children, ranging in age from 13 to 6, were well known along their street. … [Neighbor] Shontell Green, said Hunnewell was driven to provide for her children. ‘She was the only white lady on this block, and she let those kids mingle and play. Those kids loved everybody on this block,’ Green said.”

The community reacted as well, with a march held Aug. 17 from the Carolina Bakery to the State House. Marchers remembered Hunnewell, wore T-shirts bearing a picture of her along with the words “Where’s the Justice? No Bonds for Criminal Violence” and demanded change.

“[Green] described a creative mom who made bracelets with her teenager and an animal lover who allowed the kids to take in stray kittens. … She described her as quiet and reserved, and said she almost certainly fought off her killers out of a love for her kids.”

What were the results of all the public outcry and political initiatives? Almost nothing. The bond reform panel offered its report, Finlay and Howard offered their legislation and Wilson offered his funding request. And that was pretty much that. Or as Wilson told The State this week, “it was never cleared by the Legislature.”

Of course, they were awfully busy at the State House this year, what with that crisis over getting somebody — anybody — to serve as lieutenant governor for a few months while they’re not even in session.

“Police say two men pushed their way through a propped door where Hunnewell was working at 3 a.m. … Two 18-year-olds with long criminal records are in custody, along with a juvenile. ‘They took that lady’s life for nothing,’ Green said. ‘They took her from four beautiful children who were just waiting for their mother to come home.’”

Hunnewell’s former employers at Carolina Café marked the one-year anniversary of her death this week by announcing they had named the kitchen at their new location in her honor. Co-owner Lauren Schlueter told The State of Hunnewell, “She was someone that … pulled herself up by her bootstraps and had the most incredible work ethic. She was kind, happy and always a positive and a loving mother.”

A plaque proclaiming “Kelly’s Kitchen” now hangs in the new Carolina Café location. It’s a simple but sweet tribute. But it is far from what Kelly Hunnewell deserves.

Separate from justice for her alleged killers, she deserves action from the Legislature that will prevent violent criminals from making bail and performing further violent acts while out on bond. It would be good public policy. It would also be a fitting tribute. 

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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