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DA confident of conviction in Melendi case

By Ed Brock

DeKalb County District Attorney Jeffrey Brickman says he won't let 10 years stop him from getting a conviction against a Clayton County man indicted in the murder of a 19-year-old Emory University student.

Brickman said that in November 2003 the U.S. Attorney's Office gave him the case against Colvin "Butch" Hinton III, the longtime suspect in the disappearance of Shannon Melendi, and his office went to work. They spent a lot of time and money interviewing witnesses in and out of the state and getting tests run on physical evidence, Brickman said.

"Once we were able to do that we made the decision that this case should be presented to a DeKalb County grand jury for their consideration," Brickman said.

The grand jury indicted Hinton and on Monday he was arrested near a Jonesboro house where he was staying on Parkwood Way.

Melendi's body has never been recovered and the case against Hinton remains largely circumstantial. His defense attorney may bring up the subject of the age of the case, but Brickman said lack of a body is no bar to prosecution and there is no statute of limitations on murder.

"For that reason nobody should be allowed to turn and say ha, ha, the statute of limitations has run on a murder case," Brickman said.

Brickman said that all but two of the witnesses in the case are still alive. He added that he had previously successfully prosecuted a 25-year-old case against a man charged with murdering his girlfriend's 4-month-old baby and blaming the crime on a 2-year-old.

Shannon Melendi, a sophomore in Emory's pre-law program, was working as a scorekeeper at the Softball Country Club near Decatur on March 26, 1994, the night she vanished. She was last seen with Hinton, who was an umpire at the same field, an FBI agent testified in 1994 in the arson case.

Hinton was later convicted in the arson case for trying to burn down his house to collect insurance money and until December he had been serving his sentence in a federal prison in Butner, N.C.

The Associated Press is reporting that some new evidence in the case includes statements Hinton, 43, made to another inmate while he was behind bars. It cites a source close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The victim's father, Luis Melendi, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that investigators informed him that Hinton "made statements to several inmates."

The source familiar with the investigation and the father would not elaborate on Hinton's statements. Many of the court documents filed so far in the case have not been made public.

John Petrey, chief assistant district attorney for DeKalb County, said he could neither "confirm nor deny" that Hinton made incriminating statements to another inmate.

The missing student's car was found the day after her disappearance, with the keys in the ignition, at a convenience store near the ball field.

Melendi's family and friends passed out fliers and put up billboards with her picture and continued to work to publicize the case, which gained national attention. Former President Jimmy Carter at one point urged anyone with information to come forward to help find Melendi, who worked part-time at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

A month after Melendi disappeared, police searched Hinton's home in Clayton County. They returned on at least six other days, hauling off grocery-sized paper bags and a hard plastic cooler.

Clayton County Police Lt. Alan Holloway and other local officers helped the FBI serve two search warrants at Hinton's home. One was shortly after Melendi disappeared and the other was after the fire at Hinton's home that led to the arson conviction.

Holloway also worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for three months on the case. He believes Brickman will be able to get a conviction against Hinton.

"I don't feel like the grand jury or the DeKalb County district attorney would go forward with this if they didn't feel like they had a good cause," Holloway said.

And of course he's glad to see the indictment, Holloway said.

"Everybody involved in the case wants closure for the Melendis," Holloway said. "I can't imagine how the Melendis feel about this case."

Yvonne and Luis Melendi cried openly when Brickman announced at a press conference that their daughter would have her day in court.

"To say they've been patient is an understatement," Brickman said.

Brickman said he doesn't know if Hinton has an attorney yet, or when Hinton will be arraigned. He said Hinton remained in DeKalb County jail and if Hinton requests bail then he will oppose it.

James Bischoff, one of Hinton's lawyers on the arson case, said he had warned his client when he went off to prison about other inmates who may try to work off their time by acting as informants.

"Surprise. Surprise," Bischoff said. "Jailhouse snitches, I really am highly suspect of them. I know what people do in prison. People are in prison because they're not honest."

Steve Frey, a lawyer and the son of Hinton's other attorney on the arson case, who has since died, said he has been in touch with a member of Hinton's family since his arrest but has so far not been asked to take the case.

Frey said that over the years Hinton has denied any involvement in Melendi's disappearance.

"Obviously, he's adamant about not having committed this crime and is looking to prepare his defense," Frey said. "The matter was thoroughly investigated back when the young lady disappeared without any further prosecution."

Frey seemed skeptical about any new evidence prosecutors may have.

"I would be interested to see if it is nothing more than any jailhouse snitches that they purport to have," Frey said.

Hinton had been in jail before Melendi's disapperance.

In one prior case, Hinton served 15 months in prison for kidnapping a 14-year-old girl from Neponset, Ill., in 1982.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

DeKalb County District Attorney Jeffrey Brickman says he won't let 10 years stop him from getting a conviction against a Clayton County man indicted in the murder of a 19-year-old Emory University student.

Brickman said that in November 2003 the U.S. Attorney's Office gave him the case against Colvin "Butch" Hinton III, the longtime suspect in the disappearance of Shannon Melendi, and his office went to work. They spent a lot of time and money interviewing witnesses in and out of the state and getting tests run on physical evidence, Brickman said.

"Once we were able to do that we made the decision that this case should be presented to a DeKalb County grand jury for their consideration," Brickman said.

The grand jury indicted Hinton and on Monday he was arrested near a Jonesboro house where he was staying on Parkwood Way.

Melendi's body has never been recovered and the case against Hinton remains largely circumstantial. His defense attorney may bring up the subject of the age of the case, but Brickman said lack of a body is no bar to prosecution and there is no statute of limitations on murder.

"For that reason nobody should be allowed to turn and say ha, ha, the statute of limitations has run on a murder case," Brickman said.

Brickman said that all but two of the witnesses in the case are still alive. He added that he had previously successfully prosecuted a 25-year-old case against a man charged with murdering his girlfriend's 4-month-old baby and blaming the crime on a 2-year-old.

Shannon Melendi, a sophomore in Emory's pre-law program, was working as a scorekeeper at the Softball Country Club near Decatur on March 26, 1994, the night she vanished. She was last seen with Hinton, who was an umpire at the same field, an FBI agent testified in 1994 in the arson case.

Hinton was later convicted in the arson case for trying to burn down his house to collect insurance money and until December he had been serving his sentence in a federal prison in Butner, N.C.

The Associated Press is reporting that some new evidence in the case includes statements Hinton, 43, made to another inmate while he was behind bars. It cites a source close to the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The victim's father, Luis Melendi, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that investigators informed him that Hinton "made statements to several inmates."

The source familiar with the investigation and the father would not elaborate on Hinton's statements. Many of the court documents filed so far in the case have not been made public.

John Petrey, chief assistant district attorney for DeKalb County, said he could neither "confirm nor deny" that Hinton made incriminating statements to another inmate.

The missing student's car was found the day after her disappearance, with the keys in the ignition, at a convenience store near the ball field.

Melendi's family and friends passed out fliers and put up billboards with her picture and continued to work to publicize the case, which gained national attention. Former President Jimmy Carter at one point urged anyone with information to come forward to help find Melendi, who worked part-time at the Carter Center in Atlanta.

A month after Melendi disappeared, police searched Hinton's home in Clayton County. They returned on at least six other days, hauling off grocery-sized paper bags and a hard plastic cooler.

Clayton County Police Lt. Alan Holloway and other local officers helped the FBI serve two search warrants at Hinton's home. One was shortly after Melendi disappeared and the other was after the fire at Hinton's home that led to the arson conviction.

Holloway also worked with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for three months on the case. He believes Brickman will be able to get a conviction against Hinton.

"I don't feel like the grand jury or the DeKalb County district attorney would go forward with this if they didn't feel like they had a good cause," Holloway said.

And of course he's glad to see the indictment, Holloway said.

"Everybody involved in the case wants closure for the Melendis," Holloway said. "I can't imagine how the Melendis feel about this case."

Yvonne and Luis Melendi cried openly when Brickman announced at a press conference that their daughter would have her day in court.

"To say they've been patient is an understatement," Brickman said.

Brickman said he doesn't know if Hinton has an attorney yet, or when Hinton will be arraigned. He said Hinton remained in DeKalb County jail and if Hinton requests bail then he will oppose it.

James Bischoff, one of Hinton's lawyers on the arson case, said he had warned his client when he went off to prison about other inmates who may try to work off their time by acting as informants.

"Surprise. Surprise," Bischoff said. "Jailhouse snitches, I really am highly suspect of them. I know what people do in prison. People are in prison because they're not honest."

Steve Frey, a lawyer and the son of Hinton's other attorney on the arson case, who has since died, said he has been in touch with a member of Hinton's family since his arrest but has so far not been asked to take the case.

Frey said that over the years Hinton has denied any involvement in Melendi's disappearance.

"Obviously, he's adamant about not having committed this crime and is looking to prepare his defense," Frey said. "The matter was thoroughly investigated back when the young lady disappeared without any further prosecution."

Frey seemed skeptical about any new evidence prosecutors may have.

"I would be interested to see if it is nothing more than any jailhouse snitches that they purport to have," Frey said.

Hinton had been in jail before Melendi's disapperance.

In one prior case, Hinton served 15 months in prison for kidnapping a 14-year-old girl from Neponset, Ill., in 1982.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.