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Police: Sex offender tenant of Sadie Roberts-Joseph killed her over late rent payments

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BATON ROUGE - A convicted sex offender living at a property owned by murdered activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph was arrested by Baton Rouge police.

Police say Ronn Bell, 38, is being charged with first-degree murder. He was initially booked as a fugitive Monday night after he failed to pay a fee related to his sex offender registration. The sheriff's office confirmed Wednesday he is being held without bond on his first-degree murder count. 

During a news conference with Baton Rouge Police and a number of other officials, Chief Murphy Paul said homicide detectives worked around the clock to execute this arrest. Her daughter and son were also there thanking the community for their support.

"All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together," Angela Machen, the daughter of Roberts-Joseph said. "It's ironic that happened in death. What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death."

Machen added that the entire family is numb right now.

"She gave her all," Machen said. "Anyone who met my mother knew she gave it her all. And as much as I would like to be home now wallowing in my own grief, I cannot do that to her. She worked so hard. She pushed. She got everything she could out of the 75 years that she lived."

Police confirmed Bell was renting space in a property owned by Roberts-Joseph and said it's believed he killed her because he owed more than $1,200 in back rent. It's unclear if Roberts-Joseph was ever aware of Bell's criminal background.

A 2007 report from the Advocate says Bell pleaded guilty to the sexual battery of a 9-year-old girl. Instead of facing a potential life sentence for aggravated rape, his plea deal allowed him to get out of prison after seven years. 

Roberts-Joseph was found suffocated in the trunk of her car Friday afternoon.

Police did not want to elaborate about the evidence that they collected, but an affidavit for Bell's arrest states DNA evidence was found on the victim.

"We are going to let the evidence dictate where we go," District Attorney Hillar Moore said. "Once we receive that report we will sit down with the family and discuss available options by law and facts."

East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President called this loss a tragedy for the community.

"She was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge," Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said. "She was part of the fabric of Baton Rouge, and that is why you see so many people concerned about her death. We will make her legacy a priority in Baton Rouge and EBR parish."

A vigil is planned for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Odell S. Williams Now & Then Museum of African-American History, which she founded in 2001.

Roberts-Joseph's son tells WBRZ the family has not yet set up any means of donating to the museum. 

"There are apparently a couple of GoFundMe accounts that have surfaced. None are authorized."

Funeral arrangements are scheduled for 10 a.m Monday, July 22 at Living Faith Christian Center at 6375 Winboure Avenue.

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