Increasingly terrified that police were "on their way to my house any minute,'' Hinton got out of bed at 11 p.m. Sunday night, dressed and cleaned the ashes from the fire. His wife unwittingly held the bag as he poured the ashes in. He had told her he needed to clean up the yard before a landscaper came over the next day to give him an estimate. He left his house late Sunday night and dumped the bag of ashes in a ditch near some railroad tracks in Rex.
Hinton went on to detail his growing paranoia as police and the FBI targeted him as a prime suspect, how he came to believe he had "gotten away with it,'' even as he was convicted of arson and insurance fraud for setting fire to his home in 1995 and filing an insurance claim. Hinton insisted yesterday that the fire -- for which he was sent to prison until 2003 -- was an accident.
"I'm coming clean on this here sin,'' Hinton told DeKalb County Detective Raymond Ice. "I did not burn down my house.''
Calling himself a "coward,'' Hinton claimed he finally confessed to his father in a jail visit last month.
Last week, his attorney, B.J. Bernstein, called DeKalb County authorities and requested a meeting with Hinton, indicating he had something to tell them. ABC News' Law & Justice Unit was invited to witness the meeting.
DeKalb County Deputy Chief Assistant Attorney Don Geary said that no deals were offered to Hinton in order to obtain a confession.
Melendi's disappearance unnerved Atlanta and tore through her hometown Miami community. One writer compared her to Persephone, the mythic Greek maiden who was picking flowers one day when the earth opened up and swallowed her into Hades' underworld. Only Zeus and the all-seeing Sun noticed.
Melendi seemed poised on the brink of a promising life. President of her junior and senior classes at Southwest High School, she was captain of her debate team for three years, arguing cases at the Dade County Mock Trials Competition. She graduated cum laude in the National Honor Society.
Her life's plans were as complete as they were specific. She turned down Georgetown in favor of Atlanta's Emory University, which promised her $15,000 annually for all four years of school, and majored in Spanish and political science.
Melendi would graduate, she'd tell her family, attend law school and then join the Navy. From there, she was aiming for a life in Washington politics and eventually a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
She'd fallen for the Capitol on a senior class trip where she had addressed Congress as a student representative. She'd spoken before a body of student delegates at the General Assembly of the United Nations, and in college she'd worked for the Carter Foundation -- the first freshman to win a paid internship to former President Jimmy Carter's nonprofit organization.
At a street-naming ceremony for Melendi in Miami, her debate coach, Angel Menendez, called her plans "dreams ... based on a lifetime of preparation."
The softball job was just a moneymaker.
She'd learned to aim high at home. Her father, Luis, fled communist Cuba in 1961 with his parents. He met her mother, Yvonne, in 1970, and the couple married and bore two children, Shannon and her sister Monique, who turned 14 the month her sister vanished.
Luis Melendi became an award-winning photographer and opened his own portrait studio, rising with his success into the upper strata of Miami's Cuban community.