Police: Beloved Activist Found Dead in Trunk Killed by Tenant

Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was said to be behind on the rent owed to Sadie Roberts-Smith
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 17, 2019 6:11 AM CDT
Police: Beloved Activist Found Dead in Trunk Killed by Tenant
In an April 2004 file photo, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, left, talks with Sadie Roberts-Joseph, right, before the start of the Stand Up for Children 2004 Rally for Children on the steps of the state Capitol in Baton Rouge.   (Arthur D. Lauck/The Advocate via AP, File)

Police in Baton Rouge, La., called it a "heinous act," and on Tuesday they announced they had made an arrest. Chief Murphy J. Paul Jr. says Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, has been arrested on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of black activist Sadie Roberts-Smith—who was Bell's landlord. The 75-year-old was found dead in her car's trunk on Friday after police received two anonymous tips, reports the New York Times. The Washington Post reports an autopsy found Roberts-Smith died of traumatic asphyxiation, including suffocation. Bell was reportedly two months behind on his rent and owed Roberts-Smith about $1,200, reports the Advocate, but police have yet to share a "solid motive."

Per an affidavit of probable cause, Bell's DNA was recovered from Roberts-Smith's body, and video evidence places Bell near the location of Roberts-Smith's car, which was found three miles from her home but near Bell's rental. The affidavit cites a handwritten note indicating "the victim intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder … in regards to the back payments." Roberts-Smith volunteered seven days a week at the museum she founded nearly two decades ago, the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American History Museum. "She was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge," said Mayor Weston Broome. "We will make her legacy a priority here." Bell, who served seven years for a 2004 sexual battery charge tied to an 8-year-old girl, is being held in the East Baton Rouge Parish jail, reports the AP. (More Baton Rouge stories.)

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