CHARLOTTESVILLE — The man who allegedly abducted missing University of Virginia sophomore Hannah Graham was taken into custody Wednesday in Galveston, Tex., after a widespread manhunt, and police said he now will be taken to Charlottesville to face charges in her disappearance.
Jesse L. “LJ” Matthew Jr., 32, was charged Tuesday with kidnapping Graham with the intent to sexually assault the 18-year-old student, who vanished after midnight Sept. 13. The charge implies that police have evidence that Matthew took Graham against her will — or while she was in a state that left her unable to consent — but police have not laid out that evidence.
Police Chief Timothy J. Longo said it is unclear why Matthew was in the Galveston area, which is on the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Houston, about 1,300 miles from Charlottesville. Adam S. Lee, FBI special agent in charge of the Richmond division, said Matthew was taken into custody by a member of the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s a positive close to this chapter of this very important case, and we look forward to more positive developments,” Lee said.
Maj. Raymond Tuttoilmondo, a spokesman for the Galveston County sheriff, said that Matthew was arrested about 3:30 p.m. Wednesday on a beach in Gilchrist, on the Bolivar Peninsula. According to the Bolivar Chamber of Commerce, Gilchrist is a residential community and beachfront resort between Galveston Bay and the Gulf. Officials offered no details of Matthew’s arrest or where he might have been headed.
Longo said the search continues for Graham, who has been missing for 11 days, adding that the case isn’t close to being over. A reward for Graham’s safe return has risen to $100,000, he said.
“We are asking every person within the sound of my voice to find Hannah Graham,” Longo said.
Charlottesville lawyer James L. Camblos III, who said he is representing Matthew in the case, said Wednesday night that Matthew’s family expressed relief that he had been apprehended.
“We are very pleased that he is safe and that he will be coming back to Virginia,” Camblos said. “The family — their prayers have been answered that Jesse is safe. We’re very glad that this part of this ordeal is over. . . . After what they’ve been through over the last week and a half, this is somewhat of a relief at this point.”
Police want to speak with Matthew in the hopes of learning Graham’s location; an extensive search has turned up almost no trace of her. Police have collected evidence from Matthew’s car and apartment. Longo said that prosecutors decided to press charges against Matthew after reviewing evidence from experts at the crime lab in Richmond, but he did not say what investigators found or whether it included Graham’s DNA.
An arrest warrant for Matthew, issued Tuesday and released Wednesday, said only that he was wanted for “abduction with intent to defile,” a felony charge that carries a potential maximum life sentence upon conviction. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner D. “Dave” Chapman declined to comment Wednesday.
Virginia defense lawyers said Wednesday that such cases can be built on circumstantial evidence — using DNA from semen, saliva, blood and hair found among an alleged assailant’s belongings — along with witness accounts of interactions between the two people and other evidence such as video surveillance. Lawyers said an incapacitated victim — one who is drunk, on drugs or unconscious — could be seen as unable to say yes to traveling somewhere or participating in a sex act, even if they were with someone voluntarily at the start.
But that “intent” can be difficult to prove, as prosecutors must present evidence that an alleged attacker abducted a victim planning “some sort of sexual molestation afterwards,” said Alexandria criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman, who is not involved in the case. He said that can be a heavy burden that requires proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, “what the defendant was thinking of doing, what they intended to do.”
Graham, of Fairfax County, was last seen shortly after 1 a.m. Sept. 13 with Matthew, who had his arm around her, police said. Witnesses at the Tempo restaurant adjacent to the city’s Downtown Mall saw the two having drinks together there, police said. Police said that they think Graham was later in Matthew’s car but that they do not know what happened to her after that.
Matthew hired Camblos to represent him over the weekend after briefly meeting with police, and police said Matthew left the area shortly after they let him go absent grounds to arrest him. The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Matthew was the focus of a multi-state search.
Camblos — who served as the Albemarle County and Waynesboro prosecutor for more than two decades and returned to private practice this year — declined to discuss his client or the case when contacted Tuesday and Wednesday.
Longtime Charlottesville defense attorney Scott Goodman said that he faced off against Camblos “hundreds of times” in court when Camblos was a prosecutor. Goodman said that he holds Camblos in high regard, noting that he won a majority of his cases as the commonwealth’s attorney in Albemarle County.
Goodman, who is not involved in the case and spoke generally about such charges, said abduction prosecutions are usually built around three possible scenarios: a confession from a defendant; an eyewitness who can say an alleged attacker took a victim against their will; and circumstantial evidence, such as DNA or other physical indications of an attack, such as torn clothing or injuries.
Goodman said a case built on circumstantial evidence is “the harder route to add up beyond a reasonable doubt,” but that he believed the commonwealth’s attorney probably would not have sought an arrest warrant unless he was confident that the government had a strong case.
“He doesn’t want to have a case he’s not going to win,” Goodman said. “He’s not going to do it if it’s half-baked.”
Goodman said that the specific charge against Matthew — abduction with intent to defile — hints that the case will rely on forensic evidence. He also said Matthew’s apparent flight could be used against him in court, even if he left before he was facing charges.
“This does hurt the case to be absconding, to be fleeing justice,” Goodman said.
Goodman was not surprised that police publicly put pressure on Matthew before they had enough evidence to charge him.
“They want them to make a mistake because it’s unnerving to be the object of wanted posters and daily press conferences that call you to come in,” Goodman said. “It unnerves an average person. . . . It’s a tactic they teach in police school. It’s legal. . . . There’s nothing wrong with the police using every trick in the tool box.”
The charge against Matthew carries a sentence ranging from 20 years to life in prison. Generally, prosecutors must prove a sexual component beyond the abduction, said Alexandria defense attorney Joe King.
The charge is more severe — and requires more proof — than simple abduction, which requires prosecutors to show only that a person was taken against their will or prevented from going somewhere, King said. In proving abduction with intent to defile, prosecutors must show that the abductor intended to do something else with the victim — usually something sexual in nature, King said.
There is another path to proving the charge: if prosecutors can show that a person was abducted for ransom, King said. But he said that because officials in this case used the “defile” language, that probably indicates that they believe the intent of the abduction was sexual.
King said, too, that the sexual assault “doesn’t have to be completed” to substantiate the charge. “You can have abduction with intent to defile if a person is abducted and that person fights and gets away, and you could still potentially make the charge,” he said.
Police have not said what they think indicates that Matthew intended to assault Graham.
Those close to Matthew have said they know him as a “gentle giant” who prayed at a local church, worked in the U-Va. hospital caring for patients and volunteered with a high school as a football coach. Matthew is well known along Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall.
University officials said that Matthew, who had worked at the U-Va. hospital as a patient technician in the operating room since August 2012, was suspended without pay after he was charged this week. Officials at the Charlottesville Yellow Cab company said that Matthew drove a taxi for the company before a 2012 change of ownership.
Matthew, who was a defensive lineman on the Liberty University football team from 2000 to 2002, had worked as a part-time volunteer coach at the private Christian Covenant School in Charlottesville since August. Matthew “is no longer associated with the school in any capacity,” headmaster George Sanker said Wednesday.
Zapotosky reported from Washington. Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.