A New NC Bill Makes It Easier for Domestic Abuse Victims to Testify Against Their Abusers 

A new bill with bipartisan support in the NC General Assembly aims to make it easier for victims of domestic violence to testify against their abusers. (Shutterstock)

By Leah Sherrell

April 8, 2023

State lawmakers from both parties are supporting “Kayla’s Act,” filed following a Robeson County woman’s murder last year. Here’s what you need to know. 

[Editor’s Note: This report features references to sexual assault and domestic violence. If you or someone you know needs help or information, reach out to the local domestic violence agency in your county or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.] 

To those not familiar with the statistics about domestic violence (DV) in North Carolina, the numbers are shocking. 

From 2019-2021 there were approximately 138,000 reported simple assaults, 23,000 aggravated assaults, and 400 murders committed by current or former intimate partners or family members. Despite the number of reported incidents, many domestic violence cases are dismissed when fear, anxiety, and intimidation prevent victims from appearing in court to testify. In 2022, local leaders in the Robeson County town of Lumberton sprang into action after a local woman’s murder, allegedly at the hands of her abuser. 

Kayla Hammonds was trapped in a cycle of abuse that prevented her from testifying, and a justice system that lacks adequate protections for victims of domestic violence. . Kayla’s family, and now the NC General Assembly, are hoping to fix that with a new bill titled “Kayla’s Act: Protecting Domestic VIolence Victims.”

What Happened to Kayla Hammonds? 

On Nov. 21st, 2022, she had just finished her grocery shopping for the week. Kayla walked out of the Food Lion in Lumberton, her two children by her side, when her ex-boyfriend found her, and murdered her in broad daylight. 

Desmond Lee Sampson, who has been charged with her murder and awaits trial at the Robeson County Detention Center, violated an active order of protection that Kayla obtained earlier that month. 

After her death, the Robeson County sheriff, Burnis Wilkins, detailed a year of documented incidents between Hammonds and Sampson, beginning in July 2021, when Robeson County deputies first advised Kayla to obtain a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVPO). 

Over the next year, Sampson allegedly violated the DPVO, threatened Kayla and her loved ones, posted explicit pictures of her and her medical records on the internet, slashed her tires, broke her finger, and sexually assaulted her. He was arrested and charged multiple times. 

So why was he still in a position where he could terrorize Kayla, and ultimately kill her?  

The answer resides in current North Carolina laws, or the lack thereof, protecting victims, advocates say. 

While the sheriff’s report on Hammonds and Sampson paints a horrific picture, law enforcement couldn’t make the charges stick. 

Between July 2021 and November 2022, charges against Sampson were dropped because Kayla did not appear to testify against him. She feared he would retaliate against her. In fact, in her first request for a protection order in 2021, Kayla told deputies that Sampson “repeatedly” threatened to kill her or slash her car tires during her deposition.

One year and four months later, on Nov. 18th 2022, Kayla did not appear in court. The charges were dropped, and three days later Sampson killed her. 

Domestic Violence in Numbers 

A Justice Analysis Review released by the Governor’s Crime Commission in February highlights the statistics – and prevalence – of intimate partner violence in North Carolina from 2019-2021: 

  • 22,657 aggravated assaults committed by a current or former intimate partner or family member within a three year period 
  • 390 homicides committed by a current or former partner or family member
  • 138,375 reports of simple assault inflicted by a current or former intimate partner or family member.
Source: NC Department of Public Safety

A snapshot of domestic violence incidents in North Carolina during 2021 shows that: 

  • 71% of domestic violence victims are female
  • 67% of partner or family domestic violence victims were the current or former partner of the offender 
  • 50% of partner or family violence victims were between 25 and 49 years old
  • 48% of domestic violence victims were Black or African American despite being only 21% of the population 
  • 49% of domestic violence victims were white 
  • An estimated 54% of 2021 violent offenses went unreported
Source: NC Department of Public Safety

NC General Assembly Responds 

Kayla’s grandfather, J.W. Hammonds reached out to his state senator, Danny Britt, to see what could be done to prevent this from happening to others experiencing domestic violence, or attempting to get away from it. 

According to NC Policy Watch, Britt, the NC Conference of District Attorneys, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and the family worked together to create a bill that would:

  1. Allow domestic abuse victims to testify remotely.
  2. Allow evidence to be used against the accused if they threaten someone and the accuser doesn’t show up to testify. 
  3. Extend the statute of limitations for misdemeanor domestic violence from two years to 10 years.  

Extending the statute of limitations means that any cases dating up to 10 years from the date of the bill’s passage would be eligible for prosecution. 

There are provisions to protect the accused’s rights. Before the witness can testify remotely there will be a hearing where a remote location will be decided on. During the testimony representatives from both sides will be allowed in the room to ensure the testimony is not tampered with. 

Known as, “Kayla’s Act: Protecting Domestic Violence Victims”, the bill has been applauded by both parties in the General Assembly. It  passed the state Senate unanimously this week and is likely to be passed in the state House in the coming days. 

Author

  • Leah Sherrell

    Leah Sherrell is a multimedia reporter for Cardinal & Pine. A graduate of UNC-Wilmington, she's a resident of Kernersville with a background in video production and communication. Leah uses many forms of media to explore the multifaceted lifestyles and cultures present in North Carolina.

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