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Virginia police: Forensic evidence links 2 cases

September 30, 2014

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) — They both were walking alone, separated from their friends late at night, on or near the University of Virginia campus. One was found dead nearly five years ago. The other is still missing.

Now police say there’s a link between the 2009 slaying of Morgan Harrington and the Sept. 13 disappearance of British-born Hannah Graham: Forensic evidence found as a result of the arrest of Jesse L. Matthew Jr., who fled the state after being questioned by police in the Graham case.

Matthew, 32, was arrested on a beach in Texas, last week and brought back to Virginia on a charge of abduction with intent to defile — or sexually molest — the 18-year-old University of Virginia student. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison. His bond hearing is set for Thursday.

Virginia State Police said Monday that Matthew’s arrest provided a new forensic link for investigators to pursue in the Harrington investigation. In a written statement, they called it a “significant break” released no details about the nature of the evidence, and said they would make no further comment.

The latest development may also help solve a 2005 sexual assault of a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City, since the FBI previously said DNA from Harrington’s attacker matched that of the person who committed that sexual assault. On Monday, Fairfax police spokeswoman Natalie Hinesley said that to maintain the integrity of their investigation, they won’t comment on whether their case has been affected by the Matthew arrest.

Matthew has been accused of sexual assault before: When he was a defensive lineman on the Liberty University football team from 2000 to 2002, he was accused of raping a student on campus. That charge was dropped when the person declined to move forward with prosecution, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Doucette said Friday.

Before his arrest, police had searched his car and home, removing clothing and other items that they sent to the state crime lab for testing. When he became a fugitive and was arrested in Texas, authorities were able to gather more “forensic evidence” as well. Police have released no details about this evidence, nor divulged any results of lab tests.

Matthew’s lawyer, James Camblos, said he met with his client for about 2½ hours Tuesday but still doesn’t know what police have on him in the Graham case, let alone what evidence might link him to the death of 20-year-old Morgan Harrington, who vanished while attending a rock concert at the University of Virginia in 2009.

Harrington’s mother, Gil Harrington, appealed to Matthew on Tuesday tell authorities what he knows.

“I would like to appeal to him to please give the family information where Hannah is. We need to find Hannah,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show, where she and her husband Dan Harrington talked about how they have worked to prevent crimes against young women by promoting personal safety after their daughter’s slaying.

Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student from Roanoke, attended a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena on the Charlottesville campus on Oct. 17, 2009. She left during the concert and vanished. A farmer found her remains three months later in an Albemarle County hayfield, which was among the places searched shortly after Graham disappeared, police have said. At the time, Matthew had a license to drive a taxi, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. More recently, he worked at the University of Virginia hospital as a patient technician.

Graham, who moved from England to Virginia at age 5, disappeared after meeting friends for dinner and attending two off-campus parties. She left the last one alone and was captured on video surveillance walking or running past a pub, a service station and onto Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, where police say witnesses reported seeing her with Matthew at a bar. Graham had sent friends several text messages, including one saying she was lost.

Matthew, who was returned from Texas late Friday, is being held without bond at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. He is scheduled to appear via a video link for a bond hearing in Charlottesville General District Court on Thursday.

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