Jesse Matthew Jr.

For years people wondered if there was a serial rapist in Virginia.  In 2010 they were convinced their rapist had turned into a killer.  And yet still it was not until 2014 that Jesse Matthew Jr. was caught.  And, while he spends the rest of his life in prison for a sexual assault and two murders investigators wonder how many more young women met their ultimate fate at the hands of Matthew. 

I have often said there is a fine line between an excuse and a reason.  An excuse is something that is used to brush away things and expect others to just accept as they are. A reason is an explanation for something that seems so unexplainable.  A former girlfriend of Matthew's would inform investigators that as a child Matthew had been abused and molested.  Many believe it is this upbringing that caused his behaviors towards women.  In a court of law this can sometimes be used as what they call mitigating circumstances, and while on the surface can look like an excuse, it calculates more as a reason.  To be fair there were arguments made later that while his childhood abuse could have been considered in the realm of his sentencing, it does not seem that it was.  I only mention this here because the actions of Jesse Matthew seemed to span so many years, beginning at a fairly young age, and escalating to the point of murder that people "need" to have a reason, and this could have been one of them.

But, then there is the issue of where was the justice system as Jesse Matthew's behavior continued to grow in intensity and he seemingly was able to avoid detection.  In October of 2002 Matthew was attending Liberty University in Lynchberg Virginia.  He became a suspect in an alleged rape incident.  Just after being named a suspect Matthew left the school and it seems that nothing was pursued.

In August of 2003 Matthew was now attending Christopher Newport University in Newport News Virginia.  He had just joined the football team but the following month once again there as an alleged rape incident in which he was questioned and he left the team.  He would leave the school all together that October.  And, once again it does not seem anything was pursued.

In September of 2005 a woman in Fairfax Virginia reported a sexual assault.  Forensics were taken and a sketch was made but no suspect was discovered despite leads that were followed.  However, the information was kept on file, including DNA recovered from the assault.

Then, on October 17, 2009 twenty year old Morgan Harrington disappeared after attending a Metallica concert.  Two months later, on January 27, 2010 Morgan's body was found on Anchorage Farm in Albemarle County.  A medical examination would reveal that Morgan had been beaten around the time of her death and suffered from fractures to her ribs, arm and skull. Her body was only partially clothed.  DNA was recovered from the body.

In July of 2010 it was discovered that the DNA recovered in Morgan Harrington's case matched the DNA recovered in the 2005 assault, but no one knew to whom that DNA belonged to.  

Then in the early morning of September 14, 2014 eighteen year old, Hannah Graham disappeared.  As luck would have it not only was she seen spotted throughout the early hours after she had left her friends and spoken to her boyfriend, but surveillance cameras situated around local businesses were able to capture many of her steps.  One particular camera shows Hannah walking down the street, while a man, later identified as Matthew, going the opposite direction, until they passed.  It was at this point Matthew turned around and followed Hannah.  As surveillance cameras go in so many cases there was not a super clear picture of things but it was enough to know they were likely seeing their suspect.  

Witnesses from the area of that night were questioned and many reported seeing this "strange" man.  Several women at bars described him as a man who made sexual advances that they said "crossed the line."  What they meant by this was that he became overly friendly, very quickly in a way that made them uncomfortable.  One woman would claim that after the man had made her uncomfortable he quickly moved on to Hannah and she was convinced the man and the young girl did not know each other.  The last person that investigators could find that saw Hannah alive reported they saw her with this man outside a car and heard her say "I'm not getting into the car with you."

By September 19, 2014, just five days after Hannah was reported missing police had identified Jesse Matthew and had obtained a search warrant for his apartment and his car. It was said that investigators had hoped that they would find Hannah alive in Matthew's home but those thoughts were quickly dashed when they realized that he had roommates and did not live alone.  In their search they had obtained a pair of shorts on Matthew's floor and had swabbed his car for prints and DNA but of course they had nothing to hold him.

The following day Matthew went to the BMV and for some reason obtained a new driver's license.  While this was mentioned in several articles and things that I read, I could not determine the reasoning other than to assume that he had changed his appearance in some way and thought a license would show that.  He also withdrew most of the money in his bank account and took off on the run.  Results came back showing that the shorts found in Matthew's room had a mixture of his and Hannah's DNA  and that Hannah's DNA was found on the passenger door of his car.  And yet, of course Matthew, like so many other criminals had claimed he did not know her.  So, on September 23, 2014 Jesse Matthew Jr. was officially named a suspect in the disappearance of Hannah Graham but he was not to be found.  On the following day he was arrested near Galveston Texas.

Then just five days later investigators learned that Matthew's DNA had not only been found mixed with Hannah's, it was also a match to the 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax and the 2009 murder of Morgan Harrington.  Investigators knew they had Matthew dead to rights as they say, but at this point they still do not know where Hannah Graham is.  

Matthew's defense lawyer was quick to try and garner up a deal that would save his clients life.  He was attempting to hash out a plea deal that would give his client 25 years for admitting guilt in the three cases and telling investigators where Graham's body was.  That deal was never made and I suspect it was because prosecutors were convinced they could find Hannah on their own, now that they no only were already sure as to who her murderer was, but he has all but admitted she is dead.

On October 18, 2014 Hannah Graham's body was found in Albemarle County, less than five miles than where Morgan Harrington had been found in 2010. Investigators had already known when Morgan was found that the area was so remote that it had to be someone familiar with the area.  

Two days later Matthew was officially charged with the 2005 attack.  He was charged with rape and attempted murder.  I suspect that while in this case they had a live witness to go with their DNA, they charged him first with this assault while they built stronger cases in the murder charges, and this charge would keep him in jail while they did so.  In February of 2015 Matthew was officially charged in the murder of Hannah Graham and in May of that year prosecutors announced they were seeking the death penalty.  The following September Matthew was also charged with the murder of Morgan Harrington.

On June 10, 2015 Jesse Matthew Jr. entered a courtroom and entered what is called an Alford Plea in the case of the sexual attack of the woman in Fairfax in 2005.  An Alford Plea is where someone goes into court and technically does not admit guilt but does admit that the prosecutors have enough evidence that a reasonable jury would vote to convict.  The prosecutor asked the judge for the minimum sentence to be imposed, which considering the charges was three life term sentences.  On October 2, 2015 the judge complied with the prosecutors and that is what Matthew received.

So at this point he is already in jail with three life sentences and he still has two cases of murder pending, at least one of which carried a possible death sentence.  There are some who would wonder why prosecutors would waste money on continuing with those cases on someone who was already serving multiple life sentences.  The answer to that is that in the justice system you never know what could happen.  For every case that people think it is a "done deal" and it's locked down with no chance of release there's another case in which people felt the same and the case was overturned, or appealed or an error is found. Prosecutors wanted to make sure Jesse Matthew Jr. would not see the light of day outside prison again.  They knew he had committed the assault against the woman in 2005; they knew he had murdered both Morgan Harrington and Hannah Graham.  But, they were also fairly certain he was responsible for at least two other assaults and were not completely certain he was not responsible for a multitude of other missing person's cases involving young women.  They still are not sure of that today.

On March 2, 2016 a plea agreement was made in order to avoid the death penalty in the murder trials.  Matthew agreed to plead guilty to both cases in exchange for an additional life sentence with the stipulation that he was to have no early release and even relinquish any rights to a possible release due to medical or age.  

I made my way to the Virginia Department of Corrections website as I do in almost all of the cases I discuss here.  I was sorely disappointed with the information available.  It is minimal at best showing only a DOC number; name; entry date and sentence.  Under Matthew's it just simply says "multiple life sentences." 


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