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Georgia man convicted of arson

PANAMA CITY, Fla., Jan. 18 -- A central figure in the investigation of the disappearance of an Emory University student more than a year ago has been convicted Wednesday of setting his home on fire. Colvin 'Butch' Hinton III of the Atlanta area was convicted of arson, mail fraud and using a fire to perpetrate a fraud in order to collect $185,000 from an insurance company.

It took the jury two days to reach a guilty verdict on all counts. Prosecutors said the charges against Hinton were 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. But there have been allegations he set the fire to destroy evidence in the Melendi case. U.S. Attorney Kent Alexander said Hinton poured flammable liquid in his house in Rex, Ga., then set it ablaze. The trial was moved to Panama City because of intense publicity in the Atlanta area. Hinton, 34, maintained that the fire was sparked by a faulty vacuum cleaner. Hinton could face up to 20 years in prison and a $750,000 fine. Hinton, who worked as an umpire at the softball club at the time of Melendi's disappearance, has been questioned in that case by investigators but has not been charged. The house that Hinton was convicted of torching had 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.

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