Police have arrested a man suspected of murdering beloved Baton Rouge activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph, whose body was found in the trunk of her car last week. The suspect is reportedly a tenant in a building owned by Roberts-Joseph.
NPR reports that Ronn Jermaine Bell has been arrested and charged with first-degree murder in connection with Roberts-Joseph’s death. Bell reportedly owed Roberts-Joseph over $1,200 in rent, though it’s unclear if the two are connected. Bell is also reportedly a registered sex offender, having pleaded guilty to sexual battery of a 9-year-old girl in 2006, a charge on which he spent seven years in prison. According to the Advocate:
The girl told a teacher in October 2005 that she was raped while visiting a relative about one year earlier and identified Bell as her attacker, according to police reports. She told police she didn’t report the incident earlier because she did not think people would believe her, but then later decided to tell her teacher “after hearing other children talk about how it was wrong for people to do those types of things.”
The Advocate reports that Bell’s DNA was found on Roberts-Joseph’s body, and that video surveillance footage captured him near her car. Bell denied touching Roberts-Joseph’s vehicle and told police he’d had an agreement with Roberts-Joseph about the rent, although according to her records, “the victim intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder … in regards to the back payments,” police said.
Roberts-Joseph—who founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum in Baton Rouge and is credited with getting Juneteenth, the commemoration of the end of slavery, recognized nationally—was considered a local celebrity. East Baton Rouge Sheriff Sid Gautreaux released a statement following news of her death:
I’m heartbroken that our community has lost such a kind and selfless soul in such a violent, tragic manner. I have known and loved Ms. Sadie Roberts-Joseph for years and admire and respect her dedication to education and our community. … Hate tried to silence Ms. Sadie, but her voice will continue to ring strong for peace and love through the countless people she touched.
Her daughter, Angela Machen, spoke about the community’s swift, collective reaction to Roberts-Joseph’s murder, at a press conference. “All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” she said. “What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death.”
Roberts-Joseph was 75.