Baton Rouge, Louisiana, police officers arrested a local man on Tuesday in connection to the murder of civil rights activist and African American History Museum founder Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the Advocate reports.
Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was reportedly about two months behind on his rent as a tenant of Roberts-Joseph, and owed about $1,200. Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul was careful to note that the investigation into Roberts-Joseph’s murder is ongoing and no official motive has been confirmed.
“There’s no information which leads us to believe this is a hate crime,” Paul said. “There’s no information which leads us to believe that this incident was motivated by Ms. Sadie’s activism or her community efforts.”
In an affidavit of probable cause, Baton Rouge police underlined that Bell’s DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph’s body. Video evidence also places him near where her car was found, just 3 miles away from her home, which was also just down the street from where Bell was living.
It is still not clear where she was killed.
Bell acknowledged that he had been near where Roberts-Joseph’s car was dumped but insisted that he had not been inside of the vehicle, and had not seen Roberts-Joseph for several days before she was found dead in the trunk of her car.
Bell told investigators that the activist had allowed him to stay in the home he was renting as long as he paid her something.
However, in the affidavit, investigators noted that Roberts-Joseph’s own notes suggested that she ” intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder … in regards to the back payments.”
Bell was already in jail when he was identified as a suspect in Roberts-Joseph’s murder, for violating sex offender registration requirements.
Bell was booked into jail on Monday for not paying the $60 annual registration fee required of all sex offenders. He was then rebooked on Tuesday on the murder charges.
According to the Advocate, he was arrested in 2006 after being accused of raping a 9-year-old child in 2004 when he was 23. He was initially charged with aggravated rape, but pleaded guilty to sexual battery and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, thanked the police for their tireless work in making an arrest, adding that there was “at least some solace” that justice would be served, the Advocate reports.
“All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” Machen said at a Tuesday news conference. “It’s ironic that … what she wanted in life came to fruition in death. However, we will see to it that her legacy continues. … We look forward to continuing the togetherness that this horrible act has precipitated.”