The man accused of killing 75-year-old civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, the founder of Baton Rouge’s African-American history museum, faces the possibility of life in prison following his indictment Wednesday on second degree murder.
Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, could have been charged with first-degree murder — based on Roberts-Joseph’s age — which would have made him subject to the death penalty. But the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office sought and obtained a second-degree murder indictment after consulting with the victim's family.
Ronn Jermaine Bell was about two months behind on rent when his landlady, Baton Rouge civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, was found su…
A conviction for second-degree murder in Louisiana carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said in an interview that the family concurred with a second-degree murder charge as long as the penalty for a conviction on that charge would be life behind bars.
“As long as that is the case, we’re fine with it,” she said. “I’m content with a second-degree murder charge.”
Machen said the indictment of Bell puts the case “on the way to justice being served.”
According to Baton Rouge police, a popular civil rights activist found dead in the trunk of her car last weekend was killed by a tenant at one…
“We’re grateful that the process is moving along as it should be,” she said. “We’re just looking forward to moving through this process without a hitch.”
District Attorney Hillar Moore III said state law would have allowed the case to be presented to the grand jury as a first-degree murder.
“We discussed this at length with the family who firmly understood that their mother would not want to proceed in seeking a potential death sentence under any circumstance, including those of her own,” he said.
Bell’s court-appointed attorney, Brenden Craig, declined to comment on the indictment, which also charged Bell with failing to register as a sex offender.
Bell, a convicted sex offender, was a tenant of Roberts-Joseph and behind on his rent to the tune of $1,200, Baton Rouge police have said.
Roberts-Joseph was discovered July 12 suffocated and left in the trunk of her car behind an abandoned house in the 2300 block of North 20th Street.
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's arrest report says his DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph's body.
Bell’s previous court-appointed lawyer, public defender Sara Clarke, questioned in a prior court filing whether it's possible police could have illegally seized his DNA and planted it on her body just hours before obtaining an arrest warrant.
An attorney for the man accused of killing Sadie Roberts-Joseph is now questioning whether it's possible police could have illegally seized hi…
Clark filed a motion in July requesting to bring a camera into Parish Prison to take photos of Bell's body because she alleges authorities seized "chunks of his hair" from two places on his head — without his consent or a search warrant — the day before announcing his arrest in the Roberts-Joseph case. She said they also took a saliva swab the following day, which would show the same DNA.
Police took Bell into custody July 15 and booked him into jail on the grounds he had failed to pay the annual $60 registration fee required for all registered sex offenders. That's when, Clarke claims, they took his hair without authorization. Police then announced his arrest the next day in the Roberts-Joseph case.
Police spokesman Sgt. L'Jean McKneely Jr. has said investigators took a sample of Bell's hair and his saliva only after obtaining a search warrant that authorized them to seize both. He said the samples were sent to the State Police crime lab for processing and then cross referenced to DNA collected on the scene.
Police have said video evidence shows Bell near where Roberts-Joseph's car was found — about 3 miles from her Scotlandville home, which is down the street from the house Bell was renting.
He later admitted to detectives that he'd 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.
Bell, of 1514 Goudchaux St., acknowledged during an interview with detectives that he was behind on his rent payments, but said Roberts-Joseph agreed he could remain in the house as long as he paid her something.
Roberts-Joseph was known as a tireless advocate for the city's black community and an unwavering voice of peace, acceptance and healing. Local and state leaders mourned her loss and praised her accomplishments as news of her death spread nationwide.
Sadie Roberts-Joseph spent decades chasing her vision for the future, one where unity and peace prevailed.
She was best known for founding the Odell S. Williams African-American Museum in downtown Baton Rouge in 2001 and organizing an annual Juneteenth festival celebrating the end of slavery in the United States.
The museum was vandalized one month after her death but has since reopened.
Windows on the ground, benches flipped over, and other signs of damage at Baton Rouge's African American museum were reported Monday to police…