Crime

Decades after rape and murder, family fights to keep Shannon Melendi’s killer behind bars

Shannon Melendi, an Emory University student, was last seen on March 26, 1994. In 2006, Colvin ‘Butch’ Hinton III, told authorities in chilling detail how he raped and murdered Melendi and then burned the body and spread the woman's ashes.
Shannon Melendi, an Emory University student, was last seen on March 26, 1994. In 2006, Colvin ‘Butch’ Hinton III, told authorities in chilling detail how he raped and murdered Melendi and then burned the body and spread the woman's ashes. AP File

Shannon Melendi, a 19-year-old Emory University student from Miami, had just finished scorekeeping a Saturday afternoon softball game in Atlanta when she was abducted, raped and killed by a man who wouldn’t admit his guilt for another 12 years.

Now, with Monday marking the 24th anniversary of her death, Melendi’s family has begun a petition drive to keep her killer behind bars. Colvin “Butch” Hinton III, 57, was convicted of Melendi’s murder in 2006. He remains the only person in Georgia history to be convicted of the charge without a body or a crime scene.

Though he received a life sentence, under Georgia law Hinton is eligible for parole every seven years. In 2011 the state parole board declined to even grant him a hearing. He has yet to be granted one in 2018, but he’s up for parole once again.

At the time of Melendi’s death, Hinton was already a convicted sex offender, charged with kidnapping and raping a 14-year-old girl in the 1980s.

“This is what’s driving us. It’s something we live with every day,” said Shannon’s sister Monique Melendi.

Shannon Melendi — a former junior and senior class president at Southwest Miami High, who as an Emory sophomore was on track for law school — was last seen the afternoon of March 26, 1994. She was driving away from a DeKalb County softball field in her black Nissan 240 SX. The car was found the next day at a nearby gas station, its keys still in the ignition.

For two years, a five-member team of FBI agents searched for clues surrounding Melendi’s disappearance. Not long after the group disbanded, Hinton was sentenced to almost 10 years in prison — not for Melendi’s death, though he was a prime suspect in the case — but for setting his Clayton County, Ga., home on fire.

Investigators charged Hinton with arson and mail fraud and said he lit his home on fire to try and collect on a $185,000 home insurance policy.

For over a decade, her family agonized over Melendi’s death. Her body was never recovered. Though it couldn’t be proven, the family blamed Hinton for Melendi’s disappearance. Finally, in 2004, charges were brought against Hinton for the student’s murder.

Two years later, after exhausting all of his appeals, Hinton confessed during a prison interview to killing Melendi. He said he met Melendi while he was umpiring the game she was scorekeeping and that he asked her to lunch. They ended up at his home, he said, where he raped and killed her. Then, he said, he burned her body with gasoline on the property.

Monique Melendi doesn’t believe that final part of his story. She believes there are other victims. Detectives searching Hinton’s property turned up clothing and other “treasures,” a term often associated with items that serial killers take from their victims. None of those items, Monique Melendi said, belonged to her sister.

Though she was murdered more than 600 miles away, Melendi’s death sparked a local outcry and action from Miami-Dade County commissioners. The 2005 Shannon Melendi Act requires vendors — like those at fairs or working in sports leagues —who come in contact with children to conduct local background checks on employees and volunteers.

As in 2011, the family has begun a petition drive to keep Hinton behind bars. Though there is no sign he will even be granted a hearing next year, the family isn’t taking any chances. In 2011, with the help of U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, 77,000 people signed a petition to keep Hinton in prison.

“We wanted to start the drive now to put pressure on the parole board. We didn’t have the social media platform before,” said Monique Melendi. “We are determined to keep him behind bars.”

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