A former physician’s assistant who smothered his live-in girlfriend with bubble wrap in their Palmetto Dunes condominium has been found guilty of murder.
Nick Russell Evangelista, 56, of Hilton Head Island was convicted Thursday of murder following three days of testimony at the Beaufort County Courthouse. Circuit Court Judge Deadra Jefferson sentenced Evangelista to 45 years in prison.
“It takes three minutes to five minutes to make someone stop breathing with bubble wrap,” said 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office prosecutor Hunter Swanson. “The sheer violence of the act and the vulnerability of the victim in her naked and unarmed state made it a horrible act and a nightmare scenario.”
Melton’s nude body was discovered Sept. 4, 2014, on a bedroom floor by Palmetto Dunes security and Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office deputies called to the home for a welfare check because co-workers had not heard from Evangelista for several days. Her body was surrounded by green bubble wrap and blood. She had been dead for at least a week.
Evangelista was on the run until Oct. 1, 2014, when he was pulled over by deputies in Escambia County, Fla., who spotted him driving Melton’s white Jeep Wrangler. Among the items found inside was a journal.
Assistant Solicitor Hunter Swanson shared excerpts from the journal with the jury: “‘I took the life of a good and beautiful person.’” Evangelista also writes that his pattern of abuse to this point had always been ‘verbal only, never physical,’ but that he ‘became something in the end’ that he ‘couldn’t control.’”
While on the run, Evangelista took “selfies” on a prepaid phone and sent them to an escort. He invited one to his “upscale hotel” on the Florida beach.
Swanson is a member of the Solicitor’s Office Career Criminal Unit, which prosecutes the circuit’s most violent and habitual offenders. It has earned convictions against 44 of its 46 defendants in 2017.