Suspect in Virginia students' murders pleads guilty to all charges

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2016 4:35 PM

By Gary Robertson

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) - An imprisoned former hospital worker pleaded guilty on Wednesday to all charges in the high-profile murder and abduction of two Virginia university students.

Jesse Matthew Jr., 34, will face four consecutive life sentences for the disappearance and murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham in 2014 and of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington in 2009.

Matthew entered the guilty plea during a hearing at Albemarle County Circuit Court. In exchange, authorities will not press for the death penalty previously sought in the Graham case.

The parents of both Graham and Harrington were in the courtroom when the pleas were entered. Matthew did not speak during the 45-minute proceeding.

He disposed of Graham's body "like a bag of garbage to be picked over by buzzards," Susan Graham, Hannah's mother, said during victim impact statements.

A spokesman for the Matthew family expressed sorrow for what he had done and for the anguish the parents of the two students suffered.

Matthew, a former college football player, had been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abduction with intent to defile.

He pleaded guilty last year to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax County, Virginia, and is serving three life terms.

The disappearance and deaths of the two college students drew national attention and prompted some of the largest searches ever mounted in central Virginia.

Graham, a sophomore, was 18 when she went missing in September 2014. Charlottesville police said she and Matthew were seen on a video surveillance camera walking on a downtown mall together.

Matthew fled the area but he was arrested on a beach in Galveston County, Texas, and returned to Virginia. Graham's remains were found near Charlottesville about five weeks after she disappeared.

Harrington, 20, disappeared after leaving a Metallica concert in Charlottesville in October 2009, police have said.

Her remains were found about three months later in a rural area. Virginia State Police have said a forensic connection in her death was made to Matthew.

(Editing by Ian Simpson and Tom Brown)