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Posted: Monday, June 12th 2006 at 11:55am

Appeals court upholds conviction of student's alleged killer

By The Associated Press
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT

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

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

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

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

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

Hinton's lawyer, B.J. Bernstein, argued during oral arguments that there is no way to know what happened to Melendi or where alleged crime occurred. Bernstein 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.

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

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

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

Bernstein said Monday that Hinton's "family is incredibly disappointed." She said she would file a motion to reconsider with the Supreme Court.

The DeKalb County District Attorney did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision. Justice Harold Melton did not participate in the case.

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