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Figure in Melendi case charged with arson

ATLANTA, June 22 -- A central figure in investigation of the disappearance of an Emory University student more than a year ago was in custody Thursday in Atlanta, charged with setting his home on fire to collect the insurance money. Colvin 'Butch' Hinton III was arrested Wednesday evening by federal agents at his church in Jonesboro, Ga., following his indictment by a federal grand jury. He is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon. The indictment charges Hinton with arson, mail fraud and using a fire to perpetrate a fraud in order to collect $185,000. U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander said Hinton is accused of pouring flammable liquid in his house in Rex, Ga., then setting it ablaze. Hinton, 34, has maintained that the fire was sparked by a faulty vacuum cleaner. If convicted of all charges, Hinton faces up to 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. Alexander stressed that the charges against Hinton are not connected to the search for Miami native Shannon Melendi, who was 19 when she mysteriously disappeared from her scorekeeping job at the Softball County Club in Decatur, Ga., on March 26, 1994. 'This indictment is a separate indictment not directly connected to Miss Melendi's disappearance,' said Alexander. Hinton, who worked as an umpire at the softball club at the time of Melendi's disappearance, has been questioned by investigators but has not been charged in the case. A federal grand jury, convened last month to hear testimony in the investigation, ordered hair and blood samples taken from Hinton to be used in DNA testing.

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The house that Hinton is accused of torching has been searched by investigators several times, along with land around it. Authorities would not disclose what they took from the areas searched. Hinton was paroled in 1984 after serving two years in an Illinois prison for kidnapping and taking indecent liberties with a 14-year-old girl. Six years earlier, Hinton underwent psychiatric counseling in connection with an attempted rape in Kentucky. (Written by Steve Glasser in Atlanta)

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