Vance Twins Make First Appearance in Court
Posted April 5, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
HENDERSON — Two young boys accused of killing their father, and wounding their mother and sister, made their first appearance in Vance County court in Henderson Tuesday.
The 11-year-old twins appeared in court dressed identically. They sat quietly, with their heads slightly bowed for most of the time, expressionless.
At one point, their mother, Deborah Bawcum, even sat down between them and talked to them quietly.
All anyone could think of was 'How can two children be charged with such a heinous crime?'
The boys were heavily shielded by deputies and family members as they left the courthouse.
To further protect their privacy, the judge has ordered a partial gag order severely limiting what attorneys and investigators can say about the case.
"It's basically an order eliminating officials from making statements to the press to protect the rights of the defendant and to avoid prejudicial, pretrial publicity," explained District Attorney David Waters.
But publicity surrounding what happened at the Bawcum home in Kittrell Thursday night is already widespread.
It is there that the boys are accused of killing their father, William, and wounding their mother, and their sister, 16-year-old Robin.
Sheriff Thomas Breedlove was the first law enforcement officer on the scene.
"It was mean. It was tough," said Breedlove.
As Deborah and her daughter, Robin, left the courthouse, they were shrouded by family members trying to protect them from the media. But no one can protect them from the pain of the tragedy.
The boys were appointed attorneys and guardians to protect their rights throughout the court process.
They have been sent back to Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh where they are being evaluated to make sure they are not a danger to themselves.
The case will be handled in juvenile court which means if the twins are found delinquent, they will be released at age 18. North Carolina law prohibits anyone under age 13 from being tried as an adult.
Gag orders, like the one in this case, present an interesting debate between First Amendment rights to a free press and Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial.
To issue a gag order, a judge must establish two things: that statements outside of the courtroom are "reasonably" likely to jeopardize the chance for a fair trial and that there are no other legal alternatives to safeguard a defendant's constitutional rights.
Many legal experts site two cases for the rise in popularity of gag orders. O.J. Simpson was acquitted despite a mountain of evidence. There was no gag order during that trial.
In comparison, a gag order was in place for Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh's trial. He was convicted and sentenced to die.