Prosecutors will take a deposition from North Lake Brownwood murder victim Chantay Blankinship’s elderly grandfather next week in a Brown County courtroom — a move that is “a little extraordinary” for a criminal case, capital murder defendant Ryan Riggs’ attorneys said in a pre-trial hearing Thursday.
Riggs, 21, is accused by indictment of sexually assaulting Blankinship. Lubbock-based Regional Public Defender’s Office attorneys, who have been appointed to represent Riggs, did not appear at the hearing but spoke with District Judge Steve Ellis via speaker phone. The hearing was held because attorneys wanted to ensure that they have access to any evidence prosecutors use in their deposition of Blankinship’s grandfather, Charlie Barnett.
District Attorney Micheal Murray said in Thursday’s hearing that the state has already made all of the evidence related to Barnett that the state is aware of, available to the defense.
Blankinship was living with her grandfather when she was murdered on May 13, 2016, authorities have said.
Murray did not state the reason deposing Barnett, but defense attorneys said the state is apparently concerned that Barnett, who is more than 80 years old, may not be available when Riggs stands trial. Murray said in an earlier hearing that the trial won’t occur until late in 2019, probably in early October of that year.
Ellis earlier appointed the Regional Public Defender’s Office, which represents indigent defendants in capital cases, to defend Riggs. John Wright and Gary Taylor, who are attorneys with that office, spoke during the phone conference Thursday.
Defense motions filed in the case have indicated the state is seeking the death penalty, but Murray has not made any announcements concerning the death penalty.
Riggs has been held in the Brown County Jail since Nov. 15, 2017. Sheriff’s officials said Riggs confessed to his pastor and church congregation at North Lake Brownwood and then confessed to law enforcement officials that he killed the 25-year-old Blankinship.
Deputies escorted Riggs, who has grown a beard in jail, into a courtroom occupied mostly by a handful of court personnel and media representatives. He wore street clothes rather than jail garb. Ellis earlier granted a defense motion that Riggs is allowed to wear street clothes even for pre-trial hearings.
Ellis asked Riggs, who was seated alone at the defense table, to state his name to ensure his attorneys could hear him on the speaker phone. Riggs said his name and his attorneys said they could hear him, but Ellis said Riggs wouldn’t be asked any questions.
Attorneys did not make any direct statements about the evidence or the case against Riggs.
As the hearing concluded, Ellis asked Riggs if he understood what had transpired in the hearing, and Riggs said he did.