Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Store Owner Confesses to Editor's Shooting
Did karma finally get the Eagle's firebrand editor?
Those of us who travel into Oxford and back have often stopped at Melvin's Nite Owl, the monolith of a convenience store located at the intersection of Highway 30 and North Lamar Avenue, at the north gateway into the town.
Owned by Melvin "Coach" Roberts for almost thirty years, the store grew from a small operation into a major competitor to Kroger and other grocery stores with its constant flow of traffic.
Much of that changed after March of 2007, when Roberts was falsely accused of rape by a sixteen-year-old baby-sitter. He was brought to trial and acquitted, but the publicity surrounding the case literally destroyed his store.
Now the place is but a hulking shell of its former glory, and an employee that we contacted said that she expected the place to close any day. On the day that we called, around twelve noon, she reported that she'd had three paying customers since 7:00 a.m. that morning.
Roberts, it seems, has a knack for getting himself into the papers, and it's always something that had to do with bad news. It now seems that he turned himself in to the Yoknapatawpha County Sheriff's Department yesterday evening and confessed to the murder of Monica Drum, the managing editor of the Oxford Eagle.
Drum was shot to death in her office early last Sunday morning.
Roberts cited a series of negative articles Monica Drum wrote at the time of his arrest and trial as his primary motive for the slaying, claiming that the articles severely damaged his reputation and hurt his business to the point of forcing him to put the once-bustling store on the market. But no one has expressed interest so far, according to Roberts, who said he's facing bankruptcy if a buyer can't be found.
Roberts is being held without bond at the Yoknapatawpha County Detention Center on East Jackson Avenue, pending further investigation. Sheriff's Department spokesperson Elizabeth Jones says that "the investigation at this time is centered around Mr. Roberts, due to his confession, but we need to collect a lot more evidence before we start talking about a conviction. With Mr. Roberts's past troubles in regard to the legal process, we must proceed very carefully with what he has told us and how we act on it."
Despite the confession, detectives apparently still want to talk to Rick Hughes, the paper's city reporter who had a tumultuous relationship with Drum, so maybe they're not confident that Roberts is their man.
Hughes spoke to the Planet from an undisclosed location. "I can't believe that they might think I would kill someone, especially Monica. At one point, I was in love with her. I would never hurt her. She got on my nerves, sure. But that happens with everyone. I'm not going to be anyone's scapegoat. I know that."
Hughes added that, in light of this confession by Roberts, he expects the persecution and gossip about him and his relationship with Drum to stop.
Hughes has retained prominent Oxford defense attorney Mark McGhee, who vowed when we talked to him that "this is not over. The sheriff's department must make a statement clearing my client. Their insinuations that he could have had any involvement in the brutal murder of someone he cared about borders on slander. We will be exploring our options for redress if Mr. Hughes is not immediately exonerated publicly the same way he was erroneously implicated."
Sheriff's department officials did not return phone calls from the Planet requesting comments on Roberts's arrest and on Hughes and McGhee's statements.