Lake Brownwood, TX – A new advancement in DNA technology led to the Wednesday arrest of an alleged rapist and murderer who wasn’t even a suspect, police say.
Ryan Derek Riggs, 21, was charged with capital murder for the 2016 death of Rhonda Chantay Blankinship on Wednesday, the New York Daily News reported.
Blankinship’s family reported her missing on May 13, 2016, the Abilene Reporter-News said. Two days later, her body was found about five miles from her home, dumped in an old, partially collapsed cellar.
Investigators said the woman was sexually assaulted and beaten with a lawnmower blade. She sustained blunt force injuries to her neck, face and torso, and her larynx was crushed, the New York Daily News reported.
DNA from the suspect was recovered at the scene, but investigators struggled to find a suspect in Blankinship’s murder.
Then one night, Brown County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Scott Bird watched a crime show on television and learned about a new phenotyping technique that used DNA to predict physical appearances, KTXS said.
Brown County Sheriff Vance Hill said his office and the district attorney’s office spent $4,000 to hire Parabon Nanolabs in Virginia to generate an image using the suspect’s recovered DNA, and said was the best money his office has ever spent, KTXS reported.
The profile took about four weeks to complete.
On November 9, Sheriff Hill released the image to the public.
“This composite profile is not an exact photograph of what the suspect looks like,” a Brown County Sheriff’s Office Facebook post said at the time. “This composite profile uses percentages to show the accuracy of appearance to include hair color, eye color, skin color, and skin markings (freckles).”
Authorities said Riggs, who used to be Blankinship’s neighbor, confessed the murder to the North Lake Community Church congregation on Wednesday night.
The victim had also been a member of the congregation when she was alive.
A church member alerted investigators, and Riggs’s parents took him to the law enforcement center, the Abilene Reporter-News said.
Riggs then made a confession to the sheriff’s office and to Texas Ranger Jason Shea, Sheriff Hill said.
Eighteen months after her brutal murder, Blankinship’s family is relieved her murderer has been found.
“We’re just glad this is over on this part,” her mother, Catherine McDaniel told KTXS. “That’s our biggest thing is that I’m glad he’s behind bars.”
“We got justice for Chantay and that’s what we wanted,” her stepfather, Steven McDaniel, said. “She can’t be replaced. But we got somebody off the streets. I hope he fries.”
The investigation into Riggs’s motive is ongoing.
He has been charged with capital murder, and is being held in the Brown County Jail without bond.
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