Groups rally at SC State House for crime victims, families

The goal of the event, the groups say, is to raise awareness about what they call the barriers faced by victims of violent crime throughout the Palmetto State.
Published: May. 9, 2023 at 9:43 AM EDT|Updated: May. 9, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Groups dedicated to advocating for crime victims and their families rallied at the state capitol Tuesday morning to continue raising awareness about victims’ rights.

Family members affected by crime and elected officials joined members of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network and the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault at the second annual Victims Matter Rally.

The goal of the event, the groups say, is to raise awareness about what they call the barriers faced by victims of violent crime throughout the Palmetto State.

“Victims’ rights are not suggestions. They are the law,” Sarah Ford, the legal director of the South Carolina Victim Assistance Network said. “Victims deserve to have a system that works for them and with them, not against them.”

The first rally was prompted by the Bowen Turner case last year. Turner is the Orangeburg County man accused of sexually assaulting three teens in three counties. While out on bond, documents show he violated house arrest more than 50 times to go to golf courses, restaurants, and across state lines. Turner pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of assault and battery as part of a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to probation.

“I watched the good old boy system start its engines and work its magic for a well-connected defendant,” Karl Stoller, the father of one of Turner’s alleged victims, said at the rally.

In the wake of the case and subsequent bullying, Stoller’s daughter Dallas died by suicide. While addressing the crowd Tuesday, Stoller said other victims deserve better than what his daughter had to endure.

“I pray together we have made positive change and future victims will be treated with compassion and understanding,” Stoller said. “[They should] not be treated the way many victims are treated today and not have your rights violated.”

Other speakers included Sandy Smith, the mother of Stephen Smith, whose body was discovered on a Hampton County road on July 8, 2015.

“Steven was calm. Steven was smart,” she said. “Steven was buried in his medical scrubs because he was on track to become a doctor so that he could help others.”

His death was initially ruled as a hit and run. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division re-opened the case in June 2021, shortly after the murders of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh, based on information discovered during that initial investigation.

Attorneys Eric Bland and Ronnie Richter, who represent Stephen’s mother, Sandy Smith, announced on March 21 his death is now considered a homicide by SLED agents.

Stephen’s family launched an online fundraiser on March 9 for his body to be independently exhumed and examined. The fundraiser, which started with a goal of $15,000, would go on to raise more than $125,000.

South Carolina has strong victims’ rights laws, but they’re often not enforced, according to Ford, which fails victims in their search for justice and in their ability to find the help and services they need.

“Far too often, victims and survivors are treated like afterthoughts in our system. And while South Carolina has substantial victims rights protecting crime victims, if they are not asserted by crime victims and enforced by our courts, they are meaningless,” Ford said.

As part of the rally, advocates pushed for support of certain legislation, including a bill that would create extra confidentiality protections for domestic and sexual violence victims and a second bill that would allow victims to terminate a lease without financial penalty. One lawmaker there Tuesday is the driving force behind a third bill that would change how judges would be selected.

“We are the only state in America that elects our judges the way we do,” Rep. Joe White said. “That should tell you we’re not doing it the right way.”

If you are interested in getting involved in the organizations that organized Tuesday’s rally, visit the organizations’ websites: or