Jesse Matthew, who is charged in the murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham pled no contest to allegations he abducted, sexually assaulted, and attempted to murder a separate woman years before.  Matthew entered the Alford plea in connection to the 2005 case in a Virginia courtroom.  Pleading no contest means that he does not admit guilt, but concedes that the prosecution could convince a jury or judge to convict him. Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh said he considers this a victory.  But, the plea caught him off guard, “I was a bit surprised by it. I was very confident in the case we were building but I had hoped to present this…”  Morrogh said he couldn’t stop Matthew from pleading no contest and that there was no plea deal. In November of last year, Matthew was charged with the September 24, 2005 incident.  The indictment stated that he “did feloniously, willfully, deliberately, intentionally, and with premeditation attempt to kill —— in the commission of or subsequent to an abduction with intent to defile.”  The 26-year-old victim was returning from shopping when someone grabbed her from behind and sexually assaulted her.

“We saw her purse on the front sidewalk,” said neighbor Stacey Simkins. “He had already dragged her behind our units…”

The FBI said that before being able to kill the victim, the perpetrator was “scared away by a passerby.”  The victim came in from India, where she is currently living to testify.

“The court finds the evidence in this case is overwhelming,” Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David Schell said.

She wanted to “tell the judge how this has hurt her…affected her entire life, even to this day.  She wants a chance to speak up for herself.  I think she’s a fantastically brave young woman,” said Morrogh, “She said she was deeply moved and very grateful,” Morrogh said, “She was really moved by the fact that people from so far away would work so hard for so many years to bring her justice.”

While it happened almost a decade before and 100 miles away, the case is tied to Hannah Graham’s disappearance and murder.  Graham, a University of Virginia sophomore disappeared last fall and was later found dead. A grand jury indicted Matthew in the sexual assault case two days after authorities found Graham’s skeletal remains in an abandoned area 8 miles from where she was last seen. The 18-year-old went missing on September 13 after a night out.  Matthew was taken into custody 11 days later about 1,300 miles away in Texas.  He is charged with capital murder.  If convicted, he could be sentenced to death.  A detective met with Matthew while he was in prison and collected DNA, which linked him to the 05 cold case and to the murder of another college student.

Law enforcement has indicated that they have DNA evidence that also links Matthew to the murder of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who disappeared in 2009.  No charges have been filed in this case. Harrington disappeared after attending a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena. Harrington’s mother attended the court proceedings in the 05 case today.  She expressed gratitude for the victim speaking up, “I’m sure she didn’t feel like the lucky one, but thank God…I certainly want a day in court for my daughter.  But I am happy that it is very unlikely that [he] will hurt anyone [else]…”

The victim said that she tried to fight her attacker off, scratching his face in the process.  Those fingernail scrapings were used to match Matthew to all 3 cases. Prosecutors had rested their case when Matthew suddenly stopped the trial entering his plea. The victim will take the stand again to speak at the sentencing.

Harrington said that she felt like she had to attend not just for her daughter, but for  “a very brave woman who waited a long time and came at great effort and expense to find her justice after 10 years.”

It is possible that Matthew used a taxi to lure both Harrington and Graham.

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