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Monday 26 September 2016

Accused double murderer Jesse Matthew gets life for 'brutal' sex assault

Published 03/10/2015 | 08:26

Jesse Matthew is also facing a double murder charge
Jesse Matthew is also facing a double murder charge

A man charged with the murders of British-born student Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington in the US has been sentenced to life in prison for a sexual assault on a woman a decade ago in northern Virginia.

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Jesse Matthew Jr, 33, of Charlottesville, Virginia, was officially sentenced to three consecutive life terms for attempted capital murder, abduction, and sexual assault of a woman in 2005.

DNA evidence collected from Matthew during last year's investigation of Miss Graham's disappearance linked him to the Fairfax case.

Matthew's family had asked the judge for leniency in letters to the court, and a former girlfriend wrote a letter on his behalf saying he was raped as a child.

But Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh, who argued for the life sentence, was unmoved by the claim that Matthew himself may have been a victim of sexual assault. He told Judge David Schell he was suspicious about the truth of the claim and indifferent to its significance.

"If indeed this man was ever raped, then of all people it is he who should be loath to rape someone else," Mr Morrogh said.

He called Matthew a "modern day Jekyll and Hyde" who projected an image as a gentle giant to friends and family while hiding his life as a violent sexual predator.

"Killing her with his bare hands would have been the ultimate rush for him," Mr Morrogh said, crediting a bystander for saving the victim's life by intervening and prompting Matthew to flee.

Sentencing guidelines broadly called for a term of anywhere from nine to 44 years, lawyers said. Public defender Robert Frank said the picture of Matthew - a state champion wrestler who received a football scholarship to Liberty University - as a gentle giant is the one that he and the defence team had come to know over the last year.

He urged the judge not to consider "what might have happened in Charlottesville" - a reference to the deaths of Miss Graham and Miss Harrington, which have received national attention - in sentencing Matthew for the assault.

Judge Schell said little in handing down the maximum sentence, calling the crime a "vicious and brutal attack".

Mr Morrogh told reporters after Friday's hearing that the life sentence was appropriate, given the viciousness of the crime, and said he was certain the sentence reflected the judge's feelings about the Fairfax assault only, and that he did not take pending charges in the Graham and Harrington deaths into account.

Mr Morrogh said that under Virginia law, Matthew would be eligible for geriatric release at age 60 - 27 years from now - regardless of the life sentences.

The woman who was attacked now lives in India and was forced to return to Virginia to testify against him. She testified her attacker grabbed her just steps from her townhouse. She fought and scratched him, yielding the crucial DNA evidence, until her attacker ran off when a bystander approached.

After prosecutors presented their case at trial earlier this year, Matthew cut proceedings to a halt by entering an Alford plea, a form of a guilty plea in which he does not admit wrongdoing but acknowledges that prosecutors have sufficient evidence for a conviction.

Mr Morrogh said Matthew's unwillingness to accept responsibility, combined with his willingness to make his victim relive the ordeal by testifying in a public trial, is emblematic of his selfishness.

"He seeks mercy but is himself merciless. He seeks empathy, but he is heartless," Mr Morrogh said.

Hannah Graham's parents, and Morgan Harrington's mother, Gil Harrington, attended Friday's sentencing. Both Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington were college students who were found dead in the Charlottesville area after going missing.

Last year's disappearance of Miss Graham, a University of Virginia student, prompted a national search for Matthew after police publicly identified him as the person last seen with Graham. Matthew was eventually arrested in Texas and charged with Miss Graham's murder. Morgan Harrington's death had gone unsolved since 2009, when the Virginia Tech student disappeared after attending a Metallica concert in Charlottesville.

Matthew faces a possible death sentence in the Graham case scheduled for trial next year. Mr Morrogh said he hopes the Fairfax conviction will help prosecutors there - they will be able to point to the conviction in arguing for a death sentence.

Gil Harrington said after Friday's hearing she was pleased with the sentence handed down but took no joy from it.

"There are no winners here. There's loss all around," she said.

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