Fabiola Santiago

Let’s make sure Shannon Melendi’s killer stays where he belongs: in prison for life | Opinion

Luis Melendi stands next to the last studio portrait he took of his daughter.
Luis Melendi stands next to the last studio portrait he took of his daughter. Miami Herald file photo

Luis Melendi will never stop fighting for his beautiful, talented, driven daughter Shannon, whose college life should have led to a career as a lawyer, her dream, but instead was ripped from her at age 19 on March 26, 1994, by a convicted sex offender.

This father’s struggle for justice is a fight for all of us. What happened to him can happen to any parent. What happened to Shannon, a promising sophomore at Emory University in Atlanta, can happen to any young woman. Melendi will make sure that justice is served to the end and that her killer remains where he belongs: in prison.

“No, it hasn’t gotten any easier,” he told me Tuesday from his Key Largo photo studio, where he marked this 25th anniversary giving interviews to television stations from Miami in hopes of persuading people to sign a petition to deny Shannon’s confessed killer parole.

This is one conniving killer.

Colvin “Butch” Hinton, 58, kidnapped at knife-point, raped, and murdered Shannon after she left a baseball field where she was working part-time score-keeping. He was the home plate umpire — and a convicted sex offender — who had kidnapped and raped a 14-year-old and had a rap sheet for sex crimes dating to his youth.

He went to great lengths to cover up Shannon’s murder — and it took law enforcement a decade to build a strong enough case against him. Hinton was convicted in 2005 and sentenced to life in prison, but it would take 12 years for him to confess to the crime in a jailhouse interview — and only after he exhausted all his appeals all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

He claimed that there’s no body to find because he burned Shannon and disposed of the ashes. But that allows Hinton to remain the only person in Georgia to be convicted of murder without a body.

To make the ordeal even more painful for her family, under Georgia law, Hinton is eligible for parole every seven years — and they must stay vigilant.

“It’s something that doesn’t go away and the fact we have to think, if this guy gets out and hurts someone else, Shannon would have died in vain,” Melendi says. “My only solace is that Shannon put him in jail so that he cannot destroy another family. When we convicted him, it was no parole. Two weeks later, I find out there is a loophole in the law that gave him parole. The crime was committed in 1994 and the no-parole law [in Georgia] begins in ‘98. That killed us. We thought it was behind us and now we have to deal with this forever. That constant anticipation that he’s going to be released or not.”

It is maddening to contemplate that Hinton would ever be released.

It took more than a decade to bring this man to justice — years of tremendous anguish for Shannon’s mother, father, and sister Monique, who believes there are other victims because detectives searching Hinton’s property found the types of female items serial killers take from their victims.

Georgia’s parole board should continue to deny Hinton a hearing, as it did in 2011 when, with the help of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, 77,000 signatures were collected. He should never be considered eligible for release.

Then-congresswoman Ileana Ros Lehtinen asked citizens to sign a petition to keep Butch Hinton behind bars in 2009. Hinton, who abducted, raped and killed 19-year-old Shannon Melindi in 1994, was up for parole.

Shannon’s death moved many in her hometown, where she was junior and senior class president at Southwest Miami High School, a soccer player, a Legal Eagle, and captain of her debate team for three years.

Her career path became clear to her after a senior class trip to the U.S. Capitol, where Shannon had addressed Congress as a student representative, and she worked toward it: She would become a lawyer, join the Navy, pursue a life in Washington politics, and aspire to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.

She also had spoken before a body of student delegates at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and as a freshman, she had won a paid internship to former President Jimmy Carter’s nonprofit organization, the Carter Foundation.

As her father has said, her only mistake was to let her guard down with the umpire of a baseball game at a country club where she was working to supplement her scholarship funds.

For the parents of murdered children, the pain never ends — not this anniversary, or the next. Sign the petition available in email and print form at www.melendiphotography.com.

Let’s make sure Shannon Melendi’s killer stays where he belongs: in prison for life.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”