The man accused of killing civil rights icon Sadie Roberts-Joseph pleaded not guilty Thursday in the July slaying of the woman who had founded Baton Rouge's African-American history museum.

Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was indicted last week on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Roberts-Joseph, 75. A conviction on that charge would carry a mandatory sentence of life in prison.

State District Judge Richard Anderson on Thursday set a Jan. 29 motion hearing date in the case.

Roberts-Joseph was found July 12 in the trunk of her car behind an abandoned house in the 2300 block of North 20th Street. She had been suffocated.

Bell's DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph's body, an arrest report states.

Bell, of 1514 Goudchaux St., was a tenant in one of Roberts-Joseph's properties and had fallen about $1,200 behind on his rent, police have said. Bell acknowledged that during an interview with detectives but said Roberts-Joseph agreed he could remain in the house as long as he paid her something, police said.

Video evidence shows Bell near where Roberts-Joseph's car was found — about 3 miles from her Scotlandville home, police stated. That home is down the street from the house Bell was renting.

Bell later admitted to detectives that he had been in the location where the car was dumped, but said he was not inside the vehicle and had not seen Roberts-Joseph for several days before her death, police said.

A search warrant indicated bleach was poured over her body in an apparent attempt to destroy evidence. Detectives later found two empty bleach bottles inside Bell's home.

Bell, a convicted sex offender, also was indicted last week on a charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

Roberts-Joseph, a tireless advocate for the city's black community and an unwavering voice of peace, acceptance and healing, founded the Odell S. Williams African-American Museum in downtown Baton Rouge in 2001.

The museum was vandalized one month after her death but later reopened.

She also organized an annual Juneteenth festival celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.

Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.