The issue: Sheriff's officials tried for 18 months to solve the murder of 25-year-old Chantay Blankinship
The impact: Cutting edge DNA technology gave investigators the break they desperately needed
For most of the 18 months following Chantay Blankinship’s murder, 21-year-old Ryan Riggs “never was on our radar at all” until investigators recently acquired a DNA profile and composite drawing, Sheriff Vance Hill said Thursday.
Riggs, who lived with his parents about a mile from Blankinship’s home in North Lake Brownwood, was arrested Wednesday night and is charged with capital murder.
Hill, accompanied by sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Bird, Texas Ranger Jason Shea and District Attorney Micheal Murray, addressed the media in a Law Enforcement Center press conference.
“It’s a great burden off of our entire department, off of the family,” Hill said. “It’s just a great feeling. I hope the folks in the county can be a little more at ease when they go walking or enjoying life with the family.”
The case was presented Thursday morning to the Brown County Grand Jury, Hill said. He did not know the results of the grand jury session.
Hill and Murray said it’s too soon to know whether the state will seek the death penalty.
Before answering reporters’ questions, Hill made comments from a written statement:
On Nov. 15, 2017, the Brown County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Rangers charged 21-year-old Ryan Riggs with the capital murder of Rhonda Chantay Blankinship after Riggs gave investigators a confession.
On May 15, 2016, Chantay’s body was located in a rural area of Brown County. Her body was dumped in an old cellar that was partially caved in. An autopsy was performed. Her cause of death was ruled a homicide. The cause of death was determined to be a crushed larynx with blunt force injuries to her neck, face and torso.
Evidence of a sexual assault was located (semen) and preserved. A lawn mower blade was recovered at the scene. The blade was analyzed and compared to the wounds on the body, with confirmation that it was used to cause some of the injuries on Chantay’s body.
After several months of follow up investigation no solid suspect was located. Recently sheriff’s investigators learned of relatively new technology where DNA samples could be used to determine an individual’s skin, eye, and hair color as well as their ancestry.
This process is known as phenotyping.
Evidence collected during the investigation was submitted to Parabon Nano Lab in Virginia. After a few weeks a profile was provided to us with a high percentage of certainty as to our suspect’s identity.
The profile was made public.
Within a matter of hours we received numerous tips as to the possible identity of the suspect. Riggs was one of the persons identified. The investigation quickly revealed Riggs to be an acquaintance of Chantay and her boyfriend and he lived in the same area as they did.
Riggs was a suspect in a recent illegal dumping case. We began attempts to locate Riggs. After Riggs learned we were looking for him he left his house without telling his parents.
Riggs was on the run for several days from investigators.
Hill received a call at 6:58 p.m. Wednesday from the pastor at North Lake Community Church. He informed the sheriff that Riggs had just confessed to him and the congregation that he, Riggs, was the person who murdered Chantay.
Riggs was escorted to the LEC where he met with investigators.
Riggs gave a confession as to the manor and means of the murder of Chantay. Riggs’ confession is consistent with the evidence located during the investigation. Investigators have recovered additional evidence based on the confession of Riggs.
The statement concluded by saying, “this investigation by no means is completed.”