Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sheriff : Hailey man was shot to death

Multiple bullet wounds identified in autopsy

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey takes a cell phone call Friday at a Deer Creek Road residence north of Hailey where the body of a man missing for four months was found the day before. Forty-nine-year-old Keith Eric Blankenship has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of 47-year-old Stephan Michael Romanchuk, whose body was found partially buried in a pile of leaves.
Express photo by Willy Cook

    Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey said Monday that a Hailey man who had been missing for four months before his body was found last week died of multiple gunshot wounds, mainly in the upper torso or chest.
    “As many as five,” said Ramsey, adding that the exact number of bullets used in the shooting of 47-year-old Stephan Michael Romanchuk was still being determined by forensic pathologists, who were analyzing information from an autopsy conducted last week at the Ada County Coroner’s Office in Boise. The sheriff said no bullets or fragments were found in the body but that it appears that Romanchuk was most likely shot with a high-caliber handgun.
    Meanwhile, 49-year-old Keith Eric Blankenship remained incarcerated Tuesday in the Blaine County jail on $500,000 bond. He has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Romanchuk and with a second felony of concealing evidence for allegedly hiding the body in a pile of leaves near his home on Deer Creek Road north of Hailey.

Keith Eric Blankenship.
Courtesy photo

    Blankenship was arrested on Wednesday, May 14. A search warrant of his property was obtained and the body was found the following day.
    Romanchuk, who lived about a quarter of a mile from Blankenship on North Aspen Drive, had been missing since Jan. 15, when the Sheriff’s Office was notified of his absence by his wife, Lauraine Phillips.
    An investigation was started then but police had little to go on until Blankenship walked into the Sheriff’s Office on May 14, asking to speak to someone.
    A probable-cause affidavit filed by Detective Mike Abaid states that Blankenship talked to Chief Deputy Steve Harkins, telling him: “I’m here to tell you something really bad. This is the hardest thing I have ever done. I killed a man; I killed a man in self-defense. It was the man who went missing in January. I buried him in my backyard.”
    Abaid wrote that Blankenship gave Harkins his address on Deer Creek Road and then said: “I think I need to talk to my attorney.” The interview then ended.
    Blankenship was formally charged with the crimes at an initial court appearance on May 15 in Blaine County Magistrate Court. Hailey attorneys Keith Roark and Douglas Nelson, both with extensive experience in murder cases, attended the hearing and were appointed legal counsel for Blankenship by Judge R. Ted Israel.
    Abaid wrote in his report that prior to the arrest that investigators had talked twice previously to Blankenship regarding Romanchuk’s disappearance, the first time on Jan. 16 and the second time on April 23. Abaid wrote that deputies were checking into a report that Blankenship owed Romanchuk $100.
    According to the Abaid report, Romanchuk’s wife told police that “Romanchuk had confronted Keith numerous times at Keith’s home about the money.”
    Ramsey said Monday that Blankenship was not considered a suspect until his statements on May 14. Prior to that, however, Ramsey acknowledged that Blankenship was a “person of interest” in the case.
    Although Ramsey and Blaine County Coroner Russell Mikel are reasonably certain that Romanchuk died from gunshot wounds, they were both waiting official confirmation on Tuesday.
    “It appears at this point that that would be the case,” said Mikel. “There were multiple gunshot wounds, but I can’t tell you how many at this point. All were to the upper torso or chest area.”
    Mikel said it was not clear on Tuesday whether Romanchuk was shot in the front of his body or the back because autopsy findings were still being analyzed.
    Also not official on Tuesday was positive identification that the body found was Romanchuk.
    Ramsey said he was “99.4 percent certain” and Mikel acknowledged that it was highly unlikely that it was somebody else.
    “The presumption is that that’s probably who it is, but we’re waiting for official confirmation from dental records,” Mikel said.
    Regardless of official confirmation, the criminal complaint filed against Blankenship states unequivocally that he is accused of killing Romanchuk and concealing Romanchuk’s body.

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