RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – After the murder of a mother of two last fall, North Carolina leaders could change the state’s domestic violence laws in an effort to encourage more domestic violence survivors to pursue cases in court.
Investigators say Kayla Hammonds was stabbed to death in a Food Lion parking lot by her ex-boyfriend in Lumberton last November. Her family said in the months leading up to her murder, she had taken out a domestic violence protective order against Desmond Lee Sampson and pursued criminal charges against him.
However, when she faced threats to herself and her family, she did not want to go to court for fear of what could happen.
On Tuesday, a Senate committee approved a bill known as “Kayla’s Act,” which would allow domestic abuse survivors to testify remotely. Hammonds’ family believes if that option had been available for her, she would have taken advantage of it.
“If there was a law similar to Kayla’s Law a year or two ago, Kayla would be alive today. We probably wouldn’t be here talking about Kayla,” said her grandfather J.W. Hammonds.
Sherry Hammonds said anyone who befriended her daughter became “friends for life.” She also had two daughters, ages nine and four.
“Just knowing that this law would get passed, she would be so happy knowing she could help some other woman or man be protected,” she said. “It should not have happened that way. She should have had better protection. There should be better laws out there for domestic violence (survivors). And, I pray that this does get passed. I know it’s gonna get passed. I’m speaking it into existence now. It’s gonna get passed.”
Robeson County District Attorney Matthew Scott said the situation Kayla Hammonds faced is common.
“Fear and intimidation is real. It is real. And, it impacts victims, especially in domestic abuse cases,” he said.
The bill also would extend the statute of limitations in misdemeanor domestic violence cases from two years to 10 years. In addition, it adds a new hearsay exception for out-of-court statements when a witness is not able to be present due to circumstances such as being threatened.
Sen. Danny Britt (R-Robeson) said the legislation also outlines a process for prosecutors and defense attorneys to reach an agreement on where remote testimony would occur and ensures that a witness could still be cross-examined and respond to questions in real-time.
“What we do know is that these threats do keep people from following through on testifying on a routine basis,” Sen. Britt said. “And, many times these abusers are able to get set free simply because this victim remains afraid to testify against them.”
The bill has gained bipartisan support and could be up for a vote on the Senate floor next week.