Ten months after she was first abducted, a suspect has been arrested in connection to the kidnapping and murder of Santa Barbara City College student Brianna Denison.
On Nov. 25, Reno Police arrested 27-year old James Michael Biela of Sparks, Nevada after DNA evidence linked him to the site of Denison’s Jan. 20 abduction. According to reports issued by the Reno Police Dept., Biela was arrested without incident on Tuesday evening while he was dropping his child off at a Reno area day care center.
Biela has been charged with Denison’s murder, first-degree kidnapping and sexual assault charges relating to a separate incident in Dec. 2007. Biela has been implicated by DNA evidence in both crimes.
Denison, 19 at the time of her abduction, went missing from Reno over Winter Break last year. Police believe she was abducted sometime during the night while sleeping on a friend’s couch. At the time, she was enrolled at SBCC and living in Isla Vista.
After an extensive recovery effort, Denison’s body was discovered in a vacant field in a business park area in southeast Reno on Feb. 15. According to police reports, the apparent cause of death was strangulation.
Also discovered at the scene were two pairs of women’s underwear, one belonging to Brianna’s friend and another belonging to an unidentified female.
Local police worked with producers of the TV series America’s Most Wanted to help in the nationwide search for Denison’s attacker. On the show, the suspect was described as a white male in his 30s who drove a pickup truck and possibly had a fetish for women’s underwear.
Biela was first identified as a possible suspect in Denison’s murder based on a tip provided through the Secret Witness program on Nov. 1. At a press conference, the Reno Police Dept. announced that the tip had come from Biela’s estranged girlfriend after she found a pair of unknown panties in his truck.
When questioned, Biela refused to provide investigators with a sample of his DNA. However, with cooperation from his estranged girlfriend, investigators obtained a DNA sample from Biela’s juvenile son. Biela’s DNA matched the sample found at Denison’s crime scene, as well as samples obtained from two separate attacks in the area.
Since his arrest, investigators have positively matched Biela’s own DNA to all three crimes. On Friday, officials announced that they are renewing efforts to find more women that may have been victimized by Biela during or around the month-long period when the other attacks occurred.