Originally created 06/13/06

Court upholds conviction in missing-body case



ATLANTA - Georgia's highest court on Monday upheld the conviction of a man found guilty of murdering an Emory University student whose body was never found.

Colvin "Butch" Hinton was sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 murder of Shannon Melendi, of Miami. His attorney argued that the jury should not have been told of his criminal past and should have learned of FBI speculation that Ms. Melendi might have been killed by a drug dealer or a boyfriend.

Ms. Melendi was last seen leaving the Softball Country Club in DeKalb County. Mr. Hinton was spotted leaving the complex minutes later. Ms. Melendi had worked as a scorekeeper at a game where Mr. Hinton was an umpire. Her car was found at a nearby gas station.

Her body has never been found. A DeKalb County jury in September convicted Mr. Hinton of her murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison.

The murder conviction was the first in Georgia in which authorities could find neither a body nor a definitive crime scene.

Mr. Hinton's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, said during oral arguments that there is no way to know what happened to Ms. Melendi or where the alleged crime occurred. She said the lack of a body made it impossible to establish venue, which must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

In a 17-page ruling issued Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed, saying all evidence pointed to the crime having occurred in DeKalb County, where the case was tried.

Mr. Hinton apparently had a history of violent acts toward women. He tied and assaulted the wife of an employer in Kentucky in 1977, authorities said. An FBI agent testified that Mr. Hinton said he had tried to rape the woman but that, because he was 17 years old, he was treated as a juvenile and given psychiatric treatment. In 1982, he was charged with kidnapping and sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl in Illinois. The girl was the former girlfriend of his brother. Mr. Hinton served 15 months in prison.

Evidence of those previous cases was introduced at Mr. Hinton's trial. Ms. Bernstein argued in his appeal that the cases were too far in the past and were dissimilar from the Melendi case.

The Supreme Court sided with the trial court, which had held that the two previous incidents both show "a pattern of tricking women into vulnerable situations, then restraining them for the purpose of sexual assault."

WHAT'S NEXT:

Ms. Bernstein said Monday that she would file a motion to reconsider with the Supreme Court.