Jesse Matthew, Jr. Charged in Murder of Hannah Graham

Feb 10, 2015

Nearly five months after University of Virginia student Hannah Graham went missing, the man last seen with her has now been indicted for murder. 

Earlier this month, an Albemarle County grand jury charged  Matthew with abduction and murder in the death of the 18-year-old student.

"These indictments signal the beginning of the next phase in what has been an incredibly difficult process for the family of Hannah Graham, for our community, and for the men and women of the many departments and agencies who have worked on this matter since September of last year."

That's Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford, announcing plans to prosecute because Graham's body was found in Albemarle. Lunsford declined to say whether Matthew would be charged in another case to which he's been linked,  the 2009 death of Morgan Harrington.

"Each investigation takes its own course. And the simple fact is the case involving Hannah Graham was ready to be charged first."

Currently jailed for an alleged 2005 rape in Fairfax, Matthew could learn Friday when that trial will happen, but Lunsford downplayed questions of timing.

"It really doesn't matter which case goes first; it only matters that we're able to provide a fair trial."

Getting one, according to  Charlottesville legal analyst David Heilberg, could be complicated by the widespread publicity that began shortly after September 13, when surveillance videos showed  Graham wandering through Charlottesville and encountering Matthew.

"It will be hard seating juries wherever he is charged."

For UVA student Natalie May of Nashville, the indictments bring relief.

"I never knew Hannah personally, but it was really tough for all students to go through-- for one of our own to suffer something like that. There's definitely a sense of closure to it. I'm really happy for Hannah's family."

Prosecutor Lunsford said that Matthew would be apprised, via video, of his right to counsel in Albemarle Circuit Court on February 18.

But a question on many minds was this: Why wasn't Matthew charged with a capital offense?

Because the grand jury meets in secret and because prosecutors have kept silent about the evidence, it may not be possible to determine exactly why they came up with one charge and not another. But veteran Charlottesville-area defense attorney David Heilberg says he can think of three reasons why Matthew didn't get a capital murder charge.

"One would be a lack of proof perhaps, or strong enough proof, to get extra elements for a capital offense, a second reason would be that Albemarle is just not a friendly jurisdiction to pursue it, and the third reason is the much greater cost of defense and the very capable capital defenders that come in to represent him."

Heilberg says that in his younger days, before the public defender system took over in many Virginia jurisdictions, he defended several murder defendants in jury trials as a court-appointed defense attorney with his compensation set at just $575 per trial.