Jesse Matthew expected to plead guilty in murders of 2 college students, prosecutor says
RICHMOND, Va. – A former hospital worker is expected to plead guilty in the high-profile slayings of two college students in Virginia, a prosecutor said Monday.
Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci announced the plea agreements in Jesse LeRoy Matthew Jr.'s cases in a brief news release. Matthew is due in Albemarle County Circuit Court on Wednesday. Details of the agreement were withheld "in the interest of protecting the integrity of the judicial process," Tracci wrote.
Matthew is charged with murder in the deaths of 18-year-old Hannah Graham and 20-year-old Morgan Harrington. Without the plea agreement, he could have faced the death penalty in the Graham case had he been convicted at trial. He's already serving life in prison for a sexual assault in Fairfax County.
Matthew's attorney, public capital defender Douglas Ramseur, declined to comment.
Morgan's mother, Gil Harrington, said she did not object to taking the death penalty off the table. She said the community will benefit "because a vicious predator has been removed from their midst."
"That's a huge gain."
She said that "we're still without our daughter, so it's not a great celebration," but added that resolving the case will allow the family to "move forward and do more good in Morgan's memory."
Following her daughter's disappearance, Gil Harrington formed a nonprofit organization, Help Save the Next Girl, to combat violence against women and provide outreach to victims.
Hannah's father, John Graham, said he would have no comment until after Wednesday's hearing.
Matthew's trial in the Graham slaying had been set for this summer, with the Harrington case following in the fall.
Graham's September 2014 disappearance came amid rising national concern about sexual assaults and other crimes around universities. A massive search ended when a team from a Richmond-area sheriff's office found her body five weeks later on abandoned property in Albemarle County, about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus and 6 miles from a hayfield where Harrington's remains had been found in January 2010.
Harrington had vanished while attending a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia in 2009. Authorities have not said exactly how either student died.
Graham disappeared after a night out with friends in Charlottesville. In surveillance video, she can be seen walking unsteadily and running at times before crossing a seven-block strip of bars, restaurants and shops. Another video captured her leaving a restaurant with Matthew, his arm around her. He was the last person seen with Graham, according to authorities.
After police named Matthew a person of interest in Graham's disappearance, he fled and was later apprehended on a beach in southeast Texas. He was charged with abduction with intent to defile, a felony that empowered police to swab his cheek for a DNA sample. That sample connected Matthew to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax County, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., according to authorities.
The DNA evidence in the Fairfax sexual assault, in turn, linked Matthew to the Harrington case, authorities have said.
The charge against Matthew in the Graham case was later upgraded to capital murder, giving prosecutors the option to seek the death penalty.
Matthew, who was a taxi driver before going to work at the University of Virginia hospital, also had been accused of raping students in 2002 and 2003 at Liberty University and Christopher Newport University, where he had played football. But those cases were dropped when the women declined to press charges.