Clayton man arrested in killing

By Ed Brock

Joanna Waits of Hampton was shocked when she heard Colvin "Butch" Hinton III had been arrested in connection with the disappearance of an Emory University student 10 years ago.

But she said she wasn't surprised.

"Some people appear to be very Christian-like, but they're really hiding," said Waits, a former Sunday school student of Hinton.

District Attorney Jeffrey Brickman said Monday that a grand jury had indicted Hinton, 43, for the 1994 death of 19-year-old Shannon Melendi, a sophomore in Emory's pre-law program.

Melendi disappeared from her job at a softball park on March 26, 1994. Authorities said Hinton was working as an umpire at the park that day.

Melendi's car was found the following day, with the keys in the ignition.

A month after Melendi disappeared, police searched Hinton's home in Clayton County. He was arrested Monday at his Clayton County home.

An FBI agent testified in 1996 that Hinton had a history of abducting women and had lied about his whereabouts at the time Melendi disappeared. A jury convicted him that year of trying to burn his house to commit insurance fraud. He was later released from prison.

It was during the 1996 trial that Waits, now 30, came to realize that Hinton, who had also coached her in baseball and introduced her to her ex-husband, was not the man she thought. Hinton began writing letters to Waits and to a female friend of hers who also knew Hinton.

"The contents were not exactly appropriate," Waits said. "That's when we were thinking this was probably true."

Waits said the letters were sexually explicit even though she was married.

Melendi's family and friends passed out fliers and put up billboards with her picture and continued to work to publicize the case. More than 50 FBI agents and police officers were working on the case at one time.

Melendi's father, Luis Melendi of Miami, Fla., said prosecutors had kept him informed of the progress of the case.

The Missing Persons Cold Case Network Web site gives the following details about the case:

Melendi worked at the now-defunct Softball Country Club on North Decatur Road in Atlanta as a scorekeeper and sports equipment salesperson. She arrived for her shift at approximately 8:40 a.m. and worked until approximately 12:40 p.m. She was seen shortly thereafter across the street from the club at a Citgo gas station, where she purchased a soft drink, also according to the Web site.

Melendi's roommate, who grew concerned after Melendi did not return, discovered Melendi's Nissan 280SX abandoned in the Citgo parking lot later during the day. The keys were in the ignition and the vehicle was unlocked.

Investigators learned that Hinton may have been the last person to be seen with Melendi on the day of her disappearance. He reportedly flirted with Melendi during games and was reprimanded by the field's management earlier in 1994.

An unidentified man contacted a tip line several days after Melendi vanished. The individual claimed that she was alive and "felt lonely." He promised to leave a piece of Melendi's jewelry at the pay telephone booth were he placed the call as evidence of her alleged abduction. Authorities traced the call to a booth near Rex where Hinton also lived at the time. A ring that Melendi received from her aunt was discovered near the booth.

Authorities discovered women's clothing, shoes, a sleeping bag and a club scorecard buried in his yard. The black tote bag Hinton reportedly carried on the day Melendi vanished was also recovered at his house. There was no sign of Melendi at Hinton's residence.

Also according to the MPCCN Web site Hinton borrowed his father's butcher saw on the day she vanished. His neighbors also complained that he burned trash in his back yard during the evening hours of March 26.

Southwest 48th Street from 87th Avenue to 107th Avenue in Atlanta was renamed Shannon Melendi Drive in her honor after her disappearance.

Melendi was raised in the Miami-Dade, Florida area. Her loved ones describe her as an ambitious and popular young woman. She accepted a paid internship at The Carter Center after her acceptance to Emory University.

At Emory she majored in Spanish and political science and she had plans to join the Navy after receiving her degree, according to another Web site. She planned to retire as a naval commander and then go into politics, and during her senior year in high school she spoke before the United Nations and Congress.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.