Chapel Hill News

Is this the face of UNC student Faith Hedgepeth’s killer?

DNA-based composite of suspect in Faith Hedgepeth murder case released

Lt. Celisa Lehew of the Chapel Hill Police Department discusses limitations of DNA-based composite of suspect in Faith Hedgepeth murder case, as shown on ABC's "20/20" Friday night, Sept. 23, 2016.
Up Next
Lt. Celisa Lehew of the Chapel Hill Police Department discusses limitations of DNA-based composite of suspect in Faith Hedgepeth murder case, as shown on ABC's "20/20" Friday night, Sept. 23, 2016.

Roland Hedgepeth had seen the DNA-based composite sketch before ABC’s “20/20” aired it on nationwide TV last week.

But the father of Faith Hedgepeth said Thursday the family hopes the renewed attention will get people talking about his daughter’s 2012 unsolved murder.

“And if people are talking, people will call,” he said.

Police have received hundreds of tips since “20/20” aired an hourlong episode on the Hedgepeth case Sept. 23.

About half the tips have concerned the computer-generated composite of the possible killer based on DNA evidence at the scene, Chapel Hill Police Lt. Celisa Lehew said in an interview Monday.

The composite head shot by Parabon NanoLabs of Reston, Va., shows a Latino man, with likely olive skin, brown or hazel eyes and black hair.

He is shown at age 25 and a body mass index of 22, default settings when the company doesn’t have that information.

“The composite doesn’t show such things as (definite) body mass index, hair style or age, so you have to take that into consideration when you look at the photo,” Lehew said. “Someone who is more heavier set would have a different fullness to the face.”

Hedgepeth, 19, was found beaten to death Sept. 7, 2012, and semen was collected in a sexual assault kit.

The “20/20” episode marked the first time the police have released the composite, as well as a photo of a bloody Bacardi rum bottle they think was used to bludgeon Hedgepeth in her apartment at the Hawthorne at the View complex, Lehew said. They have had the composite since late 2015 or early 2016, she said.

“It was not in the best interest of the case to release that (earlier),” Lehew said. “I can’t go into specifics.”

The information does not rule out others being involved or other weapons being used, she said.

Ellen Greytak, director of bioinformatics at Parabon NanoLabs, said the company uses a huge database of known DNA samples to identify points in the human genome linked to certain physical traits and then uses predictive modeling to generate likely composites based on samples.

In the Hedgepeth case, for example, the company says it is 85.7 percent confident the suspect has dark or light olive skin. It is 93.8 percent confident the suspect has brown or hazel eyes

The technology, originally funded by the Department of Defense, has been used in more than 60 cases so far.

It has helped lead to “a couple ... less than 10” arrests, she said. The company charges $3,600 to analyze a DNA sample.

“It’s not meant to be a driver’s license photograph,” Greytak said. “It’s really intended for lead generation, for prioritizing the suspect list. The people who match go to the top..

Roland Hedgepeth said police had shared the information aired in the broadcast last week.

“I have pretty much an open door with Lt. Lehew,” he said. “She’s been very cooperative within the parameters she has to operate in. It seems they’re a little more open to answering questions.”

Four years after the murder, an arrest would bring some measure of relief, Hedgepeth said.

“I don’t know that it would bring peace,” he said. “It would feel like justice is served. It would definitely be a step forward.”

The composite sketch looks like several men he has seen photos of, Hedgepeth said; then again, “it might look like 500 people out there.”

Still, he remains hopeful someone will come forward. “The family has never lost faith in the lord that this case is going to be solved,” he said. “That’s where our faith lies. It’s not necessarily in the Chapel Hill Police Department, or ‘20/20.’ Those are just tools in the process.”

A $40,000 reward is available for information leading to an arrest in the Hedgepeth case. Police ask anyone with information to call a tip line at 919-614-6363 to speak to an investigator.

Anyone who wants to remain anonymous may contact Chapel Hill-Carrboro-UNC Crimestoppers at 919-942-7515 or at crimestoppers-chcunc.org.

Security camera footage shows Faith Hedgepeth and her roommate leaving Thrill night club in Chapel Hill the night she was murdered. This was footage the Chapel Hill Police Dept. shared with and aired on "20/20". (Video has been rotated for ease o

Schultz: 919-829-8950

Instagram: mark_schultz_nando

  Comments