Suspect in student kidnapping pleads not guilty
FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — The man accused of abducting a University of Virginia student who was found dead last month pleaded not guilty Friday in a Fairfax County courtroom on an unrelated sexual assault charge.
Jesse Matthew, 32, made his first in-person court appearance in Fairfax on Friday morning. He’s charged there with attempted capital murder and other counts stemming from a September 2005 attack on a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City.
The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes, and Matthew, dressed in a green jail jumpsuit, said nothing other than entering his not guilty pleas.
Matthew was arrested and charged in September with abducting 18-year-old Hannah Graham, whose remains were found near Charlottesville after a monthlong search. Authorities say DNA evidence links him to the 2005 assault in Fairfax as well as the 2009 disappearance and death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.
After Matthew entered his not guilty plea, the judge set a March 9 trial date. The chief judge, Dennis Smith, appointed Circuit Judge David Schell to preside over the trial.
After Friday’s hearing, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said the victim in the Fairfax attack now lives in India, but will come back to the U.S. to testify at Matthew’s trial.
“It’s fair to say she looks forward to a final resolution,” Morrogh said. “I am grateful to her for her continued cooperation.”
On Friday, Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding said Graham’s death could have been avoided if Virginia would collect DNA for misdemeanor convictions as well as felonies. Harding said that had authorities collected DNA from Matthew following a 2010 misdemeanor trespassing conviction, it would have generated a hit that would have linked him to the Fairfax case and the Harrington case years before Graham was killed.
Morrogh said Friday that he agrees about the benefits of expanding DNA collection.
DNA “is no different than a fingerprint,” Morrogh said. “We’re talking about saving lives here.”
Matthew was shuttled up from a jail in the Charlottesville area for Friday’s hearing. At his initial appearance two weeks ago, Matthew remained in Charlottesville and appeared through a video hookup.
Going forward, Smith said he’d prefer that Matthew be jailed in Fairfax, though he will be sent back to Charlottesville ahead of a pretrial appearance he has down there scheduled for next month.