On March 26, 1994, Emory sophomore Shannon Melendi disappeared midday from a gas station on North Decatur Road. This month Colvin “Butch” Hinton III is up for parole for the second time since his 2005 conviction for kidnapping, raping and murdering Melendi.
“This is our life sentence — having to continue to fight to keep him in there,” Monique Melendi, Shannon’s younger sister, told the Wheel. “It has completely destroyed our family. … Growing up as a teenager, I had severe social anxiety disorder. I couldn’t go anywhere by myself. … My parents have never been the same. This isn’t something you just get over and move on with your life.”
Per Georgia law, any individual serving a life sentence for a crime committed before 1995 remains eligible for parole consideration after every seven years. This year, Melendi’s family is once again confronted with the possibility that her killer could walk free.
“What I want Hinton to be right now is dead. Just like my daughter is,” Luis Melendi, Shannon’s father said to the Wheel. “We don’t have any hope. … He might get out. He has a sliver of hope which we don’t. So I want nothing to do with [Hinton’s] family, they can all die — I don’t care.”
The Georgia parole board makes a decision based on the inmate’s file, which includes letters and notes from community members, and their performance and behavior whilst in prison. Georgia’s parole system does not have parole hearings. The Melendis have an active Change.org petition with upward of 6,000 signatures to deny Hinton’s parole.
During that Saturday afternoon in 1994, Melendi left her Harris Hall room to go to her scorekeeping job at the now-defunct DeKalb Softball Country Club. Hinton was an umpire in the same game she was keeping score. According to Jerry Chastain, Hinton would turn around and look at Melendi frequently mid-game. She took a break at 12:40 p.m. and drove to a former Citgo gas station on North Decatur Road. That was the last time Melendi was seen by an attendant at the gas station. The next day, then-roommate Athena Perez (96C) and her friends found her car sitting at the station with the keys still in it.
Soon after Melendi went missing, an unidentified male called the Emory Helpline and stated that he found one of Melendi’s rings taped in a pouch inside a phone booth in McDonough, Georgia. Authorities identified similar tape in Hinton’s home.
On Sept. 8, 1994, Hinton burned a large portion of his Clayton, Georgia, home, claiming it was caused by a malfunctioning vacuum cleaner. Because of Hinton’s previous criminal record, the fire garnered mass media attention, according to former Wheel Editor-in-Chief Dan Sadowsky (95C). On Jan. 17, 1996, Hinton was convicted for charges of arson and mail fraud.
Over the next year, Melendi’s disappearance drew national attention and was investigated by numerous state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Emory Police Department, DeKalb County Department of Public Safety, DeKalb County Police Department and the FBI.
Soon after he finished serving his earlier sentence, on Aug. 30, 2004, Hinton was indicted by a DeKalb grand jury in relation to the Melendi case. The trial lasted from Aug. 22, 2005 to Sep. 19, 2005, and he was sentenced for life for felony and malice murder. Melendi’s ring and testimonies from Hinton’s jail mates were prime evidence in his conviction.
According to ABC News, Hinton was the first individual in Georgia history to be sentenced for life without a body or crime scene. On July 17, 2006, he confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering Melendi but never disclosed the location of her remains.
“We’ve never had closure,” Monique Melendi said. “He’s never given up her remains. We’ve never been able to bury her. We don’t have a gravesite. We have nothing, other than the possibility that he could get out and do this again.”
Hinton was first denied parole in 2011. Perez recalled having submitted letters to the parole board in favor of denying him parole. If denied parole again this month, he will be up for parole again in seven years.
Since they first heard about Hinton’s parole in 2011, Melendi’s family has reshared their petition on the anniversary of Melendi’s death each year in hopes of garnering signatures to send to the parole board.
Students who attended Emory during Melendi’s kidnapping are still scarred, 26 years after the case. Perez, who still keeps in touch with the Melendis, expressed her view on Hinton’s chances for parole.
“He needs to stay. He needs to stay there and die,” Perez said. “If god is just, somebody else will take care of him. I will be okay with that.”
Today, Shannon Melendi would be 45 years old. As a student, she planned on joining the U.S. Navy in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and serving on the Supreme Court of the United States.
“I often wonder what her life would be like if she were alive,” Perez said.