The Charlottesville-area man facing murder charges in the slayings of two college women is expected to plead guilty this week, according to a letter released by the Albemarle County prosecutor’s office.
Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 33, is set to enter pleas Wednesday involving Hannah Graham, a University of Virginia sophomore who was found dead in 2014, and Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student whose body was discovered in a field in Albemarle County in 2010, the letter said.
Matthew faced the possibility of the death penalty in the Graham case, and he was scheduled to go to trial this year in Harrington’s slaying.
In a letter to the news media, Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert N. Tracci wrote that Matthew “will be entering pleas of guilty to resolve both the Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington abduction and murder cases.”
The letter did not describe details of the plea agreement, which would not be final until approved by a judge. Tracci did not return calls for comment, and administrators in his office declined to elaborate. Douglas Ramseur, the public defender assigned to Matthew, also declined to comment.
Gil Harrington, whose daughter vanished in Charlottesville after a Metallica concert in 2009 and was found dead months later, said she has spoken to officials in the prosecutor’s office about their efforts to resolve the case.
“I’ve known that this eventuality was in the works and that both sides were working toward this as a logical outcome,” Harrington said Monday.
She said it will spare the families from what probably would have been a long and drawn-out legal process, including a trial. It will also bring to a close a six-year wait for the Harringtons, who have sought justice on behalf of their daughter.
“It is not a fist-pumping time of celebrations,” Harrington said. “Our daughter is still as dead as she was six and a half years ago — nothing can change that.”
Authorities have described Matthew as a predator who managed to go undetected for years. He grew up in Albemarle County and was a standout athlete in high school. He briefly attended Liberty University and Christopher Newport University to play football. In Charlottesville, he worked as a cabdriver and later as an orderly at the University of Virginia hospital.
He was convicted in June 2015 of charges related to a vicious 2005 sex assault in Fairfax City. In that case, Matthew did not admit guilt but instead entered an Alford plea, acknowledging that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him for the assault that left the female victim clinging to life. He was sentenced to three life terms.
Although authorities had collected DNA evidence in the Fairfax assault and Harrington’s case, both crimes remained unsolved for years. It was only after Matthew was arrested in 2014 on charges related to Graham’s disappearance that police said they were able to link him to the earlier crimes.
Graham, 18, disappeared early into her second year at U-Va., and police quickly found that surveillance footage showed that Matthew was the last person seen with Graham on the September night she vanished. After a nationwide manhunt, Matthew was apprehended on a beach near Galveston, Tex.
An inner-cheek swab taken after his arrest later showed that Matthew was linked to DNA evidence recovered from under the fingernails of the 2005 sex-assault victim. Police also found that Matthew’s DNA was connected to evidence found in the Harrington slaying.
That Matthew will now enter guilty pleas to resolve both cases, while long overdue, brings some solace for Harrington’s parents. The result of their patience, her mother said, is that “a violent sexual predator has been removed from the community, and that makes the community a safer place.”
The hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. in Albemarle County Court in Charlottesville.