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Lumberton woman's death prompts new domestic violence legislation

 Sherry Hammonds, center, testifies about the killing of her daughter Kayla at a legislative committee hearing on Tuesday.
screengrab, Legislative Session stream
N.C. General Assembly
Sherry Hammonds, center, testifies about the killing of her daughter Kayla at a legislative committee hearing on Tuesday.

North Carolina lawmakers want to make it easier for domestic violence victims to testify remotely, so they won’t have to encounter their abusers in a courtroom.

The legislation is named for Kayla Hammonds, a 31-year-old Lumberton woman who was stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend last year at a Food Lion grocery store.

Hammonds’ family says she missed a court date when she was supposed to testify about the boyfriend’s abuse. She was too scared to confront him, but her absence meant that charges against him were dropped.

Kayla’s mom, Sherry, called for action at a press conference.

"It’s just really hard on a day-to-day basis, knowing what happened to her and why it happened," she said Tuesday. "It should not have happened that way, she should have had better protections. And there should be better laws out there for (victims of) domestic violence, women and men."

The bill, called Kayla's Act, would also extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor domestic violence cases from two years to 10 years. Prosecutors hope that will allow them to revisit older cases where the victim's unwillingness to testify in a courtroom prevented charges from moving forward.

Kayla Hammonds' grandfather, J.W. Hammonds, said he contacted state Sen. Danny Britt, R-Robeson, after her killing. He quickly agreed to draft legislation.

"If there was a law similar to Kayla’s law a year or two ago, Kayla would be here," J.W. Hammonds said.

Sen. Buck Newton, R-Wilson, is co-sponsoring the bill, and an identical one has been filed in the House.

"We want victims of domestic violence to seek help, we don’t want them to avoid help," Newton said. "We need to minimize the fear that their abusers have instilled in them."

The bill passed its first Senate committee Tuesday; Britt said it could pass the full Senate as soon as next week.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.
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