SC Crime Victims Rally for Change, Say the System Prioritizes Defendants Over Them

May 15, 2023

Advocates say, victims, particularly those of violent crimes, face barriers to justice in the Palmetto State, which they are seeking to break down.

On Tuesday, hundreds of victims and their families joined the state’s leading victims’ rights organizations, the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network (SCVAN) and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA), as they hosted the second annual “Victims Matter Rally” on State House grounds.

“This is a movement, and the only movement we can make is forward,” Sarah Ford, legal director for SCVAN, said.

Among the main themes expressed is that many crime victims feel as though they and their families are an afterthought in a system that prioritizes defendants over them.

“It is my prayer that there needs to be no bond for accused murderers,” Deloris Boyce, whose son Damion Green was murdered in 2015, said. “Make sure that victims are getting what they deserve, making sure the judges are not violating our rights, ensuring we get a fair chance to allow our family members’ legacies to live on because, at this point, we are failed, we are being failed terribly through the justice system.”

Some are also frustrated about the amount of time it takes to get answers and justice.

One case advocates say points to the broken criminal justice system is that of Bowen Turner, an Orangeburg County man accused of sexually assaulting three teenage girls. He pleaded guilty in April of last year to first-degree assault and battery in one of the cases. That was a lesser conviction than his original charge. He was sentenced to five years probation, and at the time was not placed on the state’s sex offender registry. His probation was revoked, he was sent to prison and ordered to register as a sex offender in July 2022.

Karl Staller is the father of Dallas Staller, who was an alleged victim of Turner. She died from a self-inflicted wound in 2021. “I want all our representatives and senators to know we are fighters, and no longer will accept things as they are,” Staller said at the rally. “I’ve taught my girls to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. I’ve taught them to stand up for what is right. Always remember, a strong person fights for themselves, a stronger person fights for others.”

Friends and family of Ebony Myers Clare are also calling for change. She was shot and killed by her husband at their North Charleston home in 2019.

Her husband, Romane Clare, later pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter and received a 27-year prison sentence. “It just seemed like he had too many rights,” Crystal Williams, a family friend of Myers, said. “He would be able just to change attorneys, push things back, switch pleas. It was just too much that literally it seemed like he was taking the justice system in his hands so he was taking advantage of it, and the victims really had to suffer through that because they had to continue to go year after year feeling that pain, feeling that turmoil because they wanted closure. And they were not able to get closure for over four years.”

Sandy Smith, the mother of Stephen Smith, a teenager killed on a rural Hampton County road in July 2015, also spoke out on Tuesday. Smith is still looking for answers in her son’s homicide nearly eight years later. She said that Stephen was kind and smart, and feels that his murder has been mishandled by investigators from the beginning. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division announced publicly that it is investigating his death as a homicide in March.

When asked why this push is bigger than just her son, she said it is important for her to use her platform to advocate for change. “I have a voice and my voice is to help people that are in my situation, and you just have to keep fighting,” she said. “No matter what people tell you, you don’t listen. You just keep on, they might put a gag order on you, but it’ll be okay. You’ll get over it and move on. And you just keep talking and keep fighting.”

Ford hopes the messages shared on Tuesday at the rally will push the community, particularly legislators, to create a system that puts victims first. “Acknowledge the inequities that victims face, demand accountability, and commit to changing and making South Carolina a better place for all victims,” she said.

She said that beyond legislative reform, the first priority is ensuring that the laws currently on the books are enforced fairly.

However, Ford added that a system to track when people who commit violent crimes accept plea deals for lesser charges is something she would like to see South Carolina adopt.

Supporters of victims also call for the legislature to change the way it elects judges, taking power away from legislators. Rep. Joe White, R-Newberry, said victims will never be treated fairly until that system is reformed.

SCCADVASA said there has been progress, this legislative session on bills that will make a difference for victims, highlighting one that creates additional protections around confidentiality for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The bill passed the Senate this session.