The man suspected of abducting and killing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham last year apparently was heading toward the Mexican border when he was arrested on a beach in Texas amid a national manhunt, according to court testimony Thursday.
Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 33, appeared in a Charlottesville courtroom Thursday afternoon for a series of motions in the capital murder case against him. If convicted, Matthew faces the possibility of a death sentence on charges related to the disappearance and slaying of Graham, an 18-year-old sophomore from Fairfax County who vanished in September.
Graham was last seen walking beside Matthew in a downtown mall near U-Va.’s campus, and at one point they were captured on video surveillance cameras. But she was never seen alive again. After a nationwide manhunt, Matthew was arrested on a beach in Galveston after someone recognized him from media coverage.
In court Thursday, an Albemarle County police officer said that Matthew had maps indicating he was heading for Mexico in his sister’s car, WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported. Matthew was taken into custody in late September without incident and has been held since.
Graham’s body was found on an abandoned property in October, about 12 miles from the U-Va. campus. Authorities have alleged that Matthew abducted Graham “with intent to defile,” indicating that police believe he intended to sexually assault Graham.
Matthew was originally charged with first-degree murder, but prosecutors upgraded the charge to capital murder in May after consulting with Graham’s family and weighing the impact on the community.
On Thursday, Albemarle County Circuit Court Judge Cheryl V. Higgins ruled on several motions filed by the defense, often deciding in the favor of prosecutors. She will allow insignia and symbols supporting Graham inside the courtroom during pre-trial hearings, and she also called for Matthew to dress in his prison garb and be shackled during his court appearances when a jury is not present; his lawyer had argued that pre-trial news reports about Matthew being shackled in court could affect the ability to choose an impartial jury, according to the Associated Press.
Matthew’s capital defender, Douglas Ramseur, also had sought a gag order in the case, but Higgins ruled that Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford would be allowed to discuss the case with the news media. Matthew’s trial is slated to begin in July 2016, and the court is expected to gather 250 potential jurors for screening.
Matthew was convicted in June of attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile and sexual assault for a 2005 attack in Fairfax County.
Matthew entered an Alford plea in the case, which means he acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him but did not admit committing the crime.