Jewel Melvin was killed in 1998. One suspect in the case has died, the other is still awaiting trial, pending an appeal that keeps pushing back the process and frustrating Melvin's surviving family members.
HOLT — Marvin and Ernestine Arnett talk somberly about days gone by.
The couple, both in their 80s, spend most of their time at home thinking about when their family would get together for Sunday lunches and holidays. These days, those fun family get-togethers are only bittersweet memories.
The family, including aunts, siblings and cousins, hasn't spent time together in the more than 20 years since the brutal murder of Ernestine’s aunt, Jewel Summerlin Melvin.
“We just don’t have a desire to get together anymore, and family was everything,” Ernestine said.
Ernestine said she can’t even look at pictures of her aunt, and keeps them stored away.
Melvin, described as the gentle and loving matriarch of the family, passed away on May 15, 1998 after police say two men broke into her home while she was sound asleep and killed the 71-year old during a burglary attempt.
The mother of two boys was well-respected by everyone she met. She was very religious and could often be found sewing or cooking.
At the time of her death, Melvin suffered from Alzheimers but was living at home alone while her husband was in a nursing home. Several members of the family tried to stay at her home, but were told no.
"She was very stubborn," laughed Ernestine.
On the day of her murder, Melvin had spent the day going around town with her sister-in-law. Later that night, her son Eddie had stopped by to check on her at her home on West James Lee Boulvevard to make sure she took her medications. That was the last time he saw his mother alive.
When Eddie arrived the next evening around 5:15 p.m., he found his mother's body laying on the floor of her bedroom. She had distinctive ligature marks on her neck.
An autopsy report later revealed that Melvin had died from homicide by asphyxia secondary to strangulation and she received severe blunt force trauma to the face, head and abdominal area. Her bedroom had been ransacked and her car was missing from the driveway.
For 16 years, The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office investigated the case. Finally, in 2014, two men, Michael McCombs and Steven Kimmons, were indicted on homicide and burglary charges.
"We said 'Thank you Lord!'" Ernestine said of the indictment. "All I’ve lived for is to see them in jail for this."
McCombs died in 2016.
Kimmons has yet to be tried for the murder because he is appealing an unrelated charge. Kimmons was sentenced as a habitual felony offender after authorities say he used an object to sexually batter a mentally challenged woman, prior to being arrested for Melvin's murder.
Due to the appeal, Kimmons’ trial originally set for December 2014 has continued to be pushed back. The continuance of the murder trial frustrates the Arnetts, who just want answers.
“Our question is ‘Why? Why was such a wonderful woman murdered?’” Marvin said.
“We feel like we’ve been cast to the side and her death was for nothing,” Ernestine added.
Ralph Garrett, an investigator on the Melvin case, said the continuance is normal.
“Based on the severity of the case, it doesn’t really surprise me,” Garrett said. “Normally on a case like this I could see it taking three years, but since they have allowed other things to take place, I don’t know.”
The appeals process has been going on for five years now, which frustrates and confuses the Arnetts.
"You're either going to approve the appeal or you're not," Marvin said.
According to prosecutors, Kimmons’ appeal is wrapping up in time for a murder trial to begin in November.
“Closure would relieve us,” Ernestine said. “We’re always expecting something to come up and he’ll get out of jail.”
“We’re getting tired,” Marvin added. “I want to live to see the end of this. I want to hear the judge say ‘I find you guilty.’”