- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Charlottesville man charged Tuesday in the death University of Virginia student Hannah Graham could face life in prison if he’s convicted, but he won’t face the death penalty.

Keeping with Virginia’s downward trend in the use of capital punishment, prosecutors who announced the indictment of 33-year-old Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. in the Graham case said they would not pursue capital murder charges. Instead, Mr. Matthew was charged with first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile.

“A great deal of serious thought went into this determination, including the impact on the community, the Grahams, and the need to provide Mr. Matthew with a fair trial,” said Albemarle County Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford at a press conference held in Charlottesville.

Ms. Lunsford declined to elaborate on why Mr. Matthew was not indicted on a capital murder charge.

“The charges that the jury will hear are the charges the prosecutor feels comfortable and feels the prosecutor has probable cause to bring,” she said.

A conviction on either of the felony charges are punishable by up to life in prison.

SEE ALSO: D.C. Council skirts federal threat, holds forum on pot legalization

Mr. Matthew also faces separate charges from a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax and law enforcement officials continue to investigate his connection to the 2009 disappearance and death of another female college student.

Graham disappeared on Sept. 13 after a night out with friends in Charlottesville and police say Mr. Matthew was the last person seen with her. The 18-year-old’s remains were later discovered in a heavily wooded area of Albemarle County, located about 12 miles from the University of Virginia campus.

Ms. Lunsford said Graham’s parents were told about the charge but she asked reporters to respect their privacy on the matter.

Craig Maniglia, Graham’s high school softball coach and a longtime friend of the family, told The Associated Press that he is hopeful a conviction will bring closure.

“Once convicted, my hope is that Mr. Matthew will not go free and be in a position to harm innocent young women ever again,” Mr. Maniglia said.

Use of capital punishment has been on the decline in recent years in Virginia, but experts say a host of factors ranging from the high cost of trying a capital murder case to the opinion of the Graham family could have played a role in why the death penalty was not pursued.

Virginia has put 110 convicts to death since 1976, but the state neither carried out nor handed down any new death sentences last year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Steve Northup, former executive director of Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, acknowledged use of the death penalty is on the decline in Virginia but cautioned that prosecutors have revealed too few details to allow much speculation on the reason why there was not a capital murder charge brought in this case.

“There may be legal technicalities in the case that prosecutors thought may make getting a capital conviction more difficult. Another possible explanation could be that the Graham family didn’t want it,” Mr. Northup said. “I think you don’t want to draw any conclusions from that one way or another.”

At the Tuesday press conference, Ms. Lunsford declined to discuss what evidence was presented to the grand jury to secure the first-degree murder indictment.

Officials also gave no indication how Graham was killed. Police have only said previously that her cause of death was of “homicidal violence” of an undetermined manner.

Graham’s remains were discovered roughly 6 miles from where the body of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington was found after she vanished after a 2009 Metallica concert. Police have said forensic evidence connects Mr. Matthew to Harrington’s killing, which in turn is linked by DNA to the 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax County.

“There are no pending charges against Mr. Matthew with respect to Morgan Harrington,” Ms. Lunsford said.

Charges are pending against Mr. Matthew in the Fairfax sexual assault case and he is expected in court for a hearing on that case Friday.

Mr. Matthew is due in court for his first appearance on the charges in the Graham case in Albemarle County on Feb. 18.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide