LAKE BROWNWOOD, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – A DNA profiling technique seen on crime television led the Brown County Sheriff’s Office to a break in the case of a Lake Brownwood woman sexually assaulted and beaten to death in May of 2016.
Wednesday night, Ryan Riggs, 21, was taken into custody and charged with Capital Murder exactly 1 year and 6 months from the day Rhonda Chantay Blankinship’s body was found dumped in a old cellar in rural Brown County.
During a press conference Thursday, Sheriff Vance Hill confirmed Riggs gave a confession in front of the congregation of a church he and Blankinship attended and later reiterated that confession to detectives once driven to Brown County’s Law Enforcement Center.
Sheriff Hill says Riggs was able to provide information about the crime that was never released to the public and even led investigators to additional evidence.
Details perviously withheld in the case were released at the press conference, including information that Blankinship was sexually assaulted and likely beaten with a lawn mower blade found at the crime scene. Sheriff Hill also revealed there may be an additional site where the crime took place before Blankinship’s body was dumped in the cellar.
DNA evidence from the sexual assault allowed for the break in the case. Sheriff Hill says one of his co-workers saw DNA Phenotyping used to solve a homicide in a late night crime television show, so the Brown County Sheriff’s Office began looking into the method.
Further research prompted the Sheriff’s Office to send the DNA sample to Parabon Snapshot in Virginia, and within a week, a composite profile showing the suspect’s genetic makeup such as race, hair color, eye color, facial structure, and more was released. The entire process only cost the Sheriff’s Office $4,000.
This sketch, Sheriff Hill says, is what prompted Riggs to come forward. Riggs was one of several potential suspects the public named within hours after the sketch was released, and when police tried to contact him, he evaded their advances for days.
Riggs had already been on law enforcement’s radar due to his involvement in an illegal dumping case just one mile down the same road Blankinship’s body was found, but Sheriff Hill claims they never suspected Riggs of the murder until the DNA profile was released.
Sheriff Hill says the DNA profile is “nearly right on, it’s unbelievable”, and the confession it caused is “a great burden off our entire department, off the family. it’s just a great thing.” He even asserted that “if it wasn’t for the profile, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Investigators did not want to disclose any possible motives behind Blankinship’s murder but did say they believe the crime was premeditated and Riggs is likely the only suspect involved.
Not much information about Riggs was released, save for the fact that he knew Blankinship and her boyfriend, lived near Blankinship, graduated from May High School a few years ago, and worked odd construction jobs.
Sheriff Hill says Riggs’ arrest is “a breath of fresh air, a good confidence builder, not just for us, but for the family, for the community as a whole.”
The investigation is still ongoing as detectives try to piece together what prompted the accused killer to commit such a heinous crime.
Riggs is currently being held in the Brown County Jail without bond. It’s unknown if prosecutors will seek the death penalty against him. The District Attorney will make a decision pending the outcome of the investigation.
The Texas Rangers, Brown County Sheriff’s Office, Brownwood Police Department, FBI, Border Patrol, and other federal agencies all assisted in solving Blankinship’s murder.
BigCountryHomepage will continue to provide updates on this case as it continues through the investigative process and into the court system. Check back for the latest information.
Watch the full press conference below: