Jesse Matthew charged with capital murder in death of Hannah Graham
(NBCWashington.com) CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The man charged in the abduction and killing of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham is now charged with capital murder in the case.
If convicted, Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. could now face the death penalty in the death of 18-year-old Graham, who went missing last fall following a night out with friends. Her remains were found five weeks later.
A prosecutor said new forensic evidence led to the additional capital murder charge and prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Matthew, 33, goes to trial.
Matthew was previously charged with first-degree murder, a charge which carries up to a life sentence. He is also charged with abduction with intent to defile and two counts of reckless driving for incidents that occurred early in the investigation.
His jury trial had been scheduled to begin June 29, but in March, an Albemarle County circuit judge granted a request to postpone the trial. Tuesday’s hearing had initially been scheduled to set that new trial date.
Matthew was the last person seen with Graham, authorities say.
The second-year U.Va. student met friends for dinner at a restaurant on the night of Sept. 12, a Friday, before stopping by two off-campus parties. Officials said she left the second party alone, later texting a friend that she was lost.
Surveillance videos showed her walking unsteadily, and at some points running, past a pub and a gas station and then onto Charlottesville’s downtown mall very early that Saturday. She was also shown with a man whom police say is Matthew. In the video, the man is shown wrapping his arm around Graham.
Matthew was also accused of buying her alcohol.
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said police have no reason to believe the two knew each other before that night.
Over the days and weeks that followed Graham’s disappearance, search teams fanned out over Charlottesville and Albemarle County, and authorities asked property owners to check their land.
Graham’s remains were found in a rural area Oct. 18, 2014, just miles from where she was last seen.
WHO IS JESSE MATTHEW?
At the time of Graham’s disappearance, Matthew was an operating room patient technician at the University of Virginia Medical Center, according to the university.
He attended Liberty University in Lynchburg from 2000 to 2002, said officials from the school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell. In October 2002, Matthew was accused of a sexual assault at Liberty, but charges were never filed, said Lynchburg’s deputy commonwealth’s attorney.
More recently, Matthew was a volunteer for a football team at a Christian school in Charlottesville. Officials said he underwent normal background and reference checks.
Online court records show Matthew was convicted of trespassing in 2010 but provided no details about the incident. Details also were unavailable for two other charges of assault and attempted grand larceny relating to a 2009 incident. Those charges were not prosecuted.
In late September 2014, Matthew was arrested on a beach in Galveston, Texas, and extradited to Virginia on a charge of abduction with intent to defile Graham. “Defile,” in a legal context, means “sexually molest.” Matthew was later charged with her murder.
LINKS TO 2005, 2009 CASES
Authorities say DNA evidence has also linked Matthew to a 2005 sexual assault and the 2009 disappearance and death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, whose remains were found in early 2010.
Matthew was already in custody in connection with the Graham case when he charged with attempted murder and sexual assault in the 2005 case. In that case, the 26-year-old victim was attacked while walking home from a grocery store in the city of Fairfax. She was dragged into a wooded area and sexually assaulted. Her attacker was interrupted by a passerby and then ran off.
Matthew pleaded not guilty in that case. His trial in Fairfax is scheduled to begin June 8.
Before Matthew was identified as a suspect, authorities said they had linked the 2005 Fairfax attack to the disappearance of Harrington, who went missing after attending a concert at U.Va. and getting separated from her friends.
Harrington had planned to find her own way home that night. Her remains were found in early 2010.
Authorities have said that DNA under a fingernail of the Fairfax victim provided a link to Matthew.
According to a search warrant obtained by NBC29, Charlottesville police found a “wooden tip from a cigar butt” inside Matthew’s wallet; the document states that the DNA from that tip provides matches to both the Harrington case and the 2005 Fairfax case.
Matthew has not been charged in Harrington’s death.
Her mother, Gil Harrington, was in court Tuesday afternoon to show support for the Graham family. Before entering the courthouse, she said she hoped for justice.
REMEMBERING HANNAH GRAHAM
Graham was a second-year student at U.Va. and had graduated from West Potomac High School in the Fairfax County section of Alexandria.
She intended to pursue a career in global public health and wanted to help others, her parents said. They have said their hearts were broken that she would never get to pursue her dream.
On Oct. 24, 2014, Albemarle County authorities announced that the remains found on an abandoned property a week earlier belonged to Graham.
That day, her parents, John and Sue Graham, released a statement that read in part, “Put simply, Hannah lit up our lives, the lives of our family and the lives of her friends and others who knew her. Although we have lost our precious Hannah, the light she radiated can never be extinguished. We will hold it in our hearts forever and it will help sustain us as we face a painful future without her.”
U.Va. President Teresa Sullivan also released a statement that day, saying Graham “brought immense energy and delight to her learning at the university, [where] she was a source of friendship and joy for so many people.”