Julie Webster looks at photos of her brother, who was killed by a man out on bond for other crimes.
By Robert Kittle
A bill that's already passed the South Carolina Senate and is now in the House would make it harder for a person charged with a second serious offense to get out on bond again.
It's something Julie Webster of Columbia is fighting for, after what happened to her brother in June 2011. Steven Fowler, 35, was the manager of a Papa John's and had closed just after midnight. When he left the store and got in his car, "Five guys jumped out from the woods that were behind the store and pointed a gun at him and said, 'Give me the money.' And he put it in forward to try to get out of there and they just opened fire and shot him, and then took off. Didn't even take the money. And he died right there on the scene," Webster says.
The man who was later convicted of the murder, and sentenced to 50 years without the chance of parole, was already out on bond. In fact, earlier on the day of the murder he had been in court for a hearing. "It doesn't make sense that they're walking the street when they've committed these violent crimes," Webster says.
The bill (http://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess120_2013-2014/bills/19.htm) would allow someone charged with a second offense that's considered "serious" or "most serious" to be held for up to 30 days before a bond hearing. That would give a judge more time to look at the case to determine the likelihood that the person will commit more violent crimes while out.
A House subcommittee heard testimony this week on the bill, including from Webster. The subcommittee plans another hearing for early February.
But Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Columbia, who's the House Minority Leader and is also a defense attorney, says he thinks the bill would be unconstitutional. "Under our constitution, people are presumed innocent, and because of that they are entitled to a bond," he says.
He says judges can already revoke bond if someone is out on bond and commits another crime. And he says this bill would not prevent crimes by people who commit them while they're out on bond for the first time, since the bill wouldn't delay or prevent their release on bond until they're arrested a second time.
Webster agrees the bill doesn't do enough, but says lawmakers need to do something.
"If we could just keep somebody else's family from going through what I've gone through," she says. "If somebody is committing a violent crime and they come up for bond they shouldn't get it."