The man accused of killing Virginia college students Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington will spend the rest of his life in prison after he was sentenced Friday in a separate attack in Fairfax in 2005.
Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 33, abducted, sexually assaulted and attempted to kill a woman in an attack that Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge David S. Schell called “vicious and brutal.” Schell handed down the maximum punishment — a life term — in each of the three counts for which Matthew was convicted.
“The violence of these offenses was extreme,” Schell said.
Matthew showed little emotion as the sentence was read to a packed courtroom that included the parents of Graham and Harrington, but his mother sobbed and yelled: “I hope you rot in hell.”
It was unclear whom Debra Matthew-Carr was addressing, but her family helped escort her from the courtroom as she cried loudly. Family members declined to comment after the hearing.
Matthew, who has never spoken publicly about the crimes he has been accused of committing, did not break his silence Friday. When Schell asked him if he wanted to address the court before he was sentenced, he answered softly, “No, sir.”
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh described Matthew as a Jekyll and Hyde character. Morrogh said Matthew could be pleasant, but he was also a vicious sexual predator who was hunting a victim the night of Sept. 24, 2005. He added that Matthew had never shown remorse for the attack.
“There is a complete and utter lack of responsibility from this defendant,” Morrogh said.
Morrogh read excerpts from a letter written by the then-26-year-old victim, who was not in the courtroom Friday but whose testimony was instrumental in obtaining Matthew’s conviction in the case in June.
The woman, who is from India, was allowed to testify in the sentencing phase shortly after the trial, so she did not have to return to the United States. The Washington Post generally does not name the victims of sexual assault.
In the letter read by Morrogh, the woman described the attack as a “bad dream.” The woman, who had just started a job after graduate school, was walking home from a book store when Matthew grabbed her a few steps from the townhouse she rented.
Matthew carried her to a grassy patch at one end of her neighborhood and began attacking her. In the letter, she wrote Matthew banged her head into the ground, like a “rugged football.” Matthew sexually assaulted her and began strangling her.
“I see my mother’s sad face, like she is saying, ‘Goodbye,’ ” the woman wrote of being strangled. She eventually passed out and Morrogh said a passerby helped scare Matthew off.
“That night I died,” Morrogh read from the woman’s letter.
After the hearing, Morrogh described the victim as a “real hero” who made Matthew’s conviction possible.
But the road to justice was long.
Fairfax City police investigated dozens of suspects, but the brutal crime went unsolved for nine years. The big break came when Matthew was arrested in the high-profile killing of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. The 18-year-old from Fairfax County disappeared from downtown Charlottesville after a night out with friends in September 2014. Matthew could face the death penalty if convicted in that case, which is set to go to trial in July.
Following Matthew’s arrest, a DNA sample was taken from him. Authorities later said it matched material collected from under the nail of the woman in Fairfax after her attack. Matthew was charged in that case.
In June, Matthew’s trial in the Fairfax case ended abruptly after the prosecution finished its case. Matthew entered a surprise Alford plea. In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt but concedes that prosecutors have enough evidence to obtain a conviction.
After the 2005 attack, authorities said Matthew stalked other victims. He was recently charged with murder in the 2009 killing of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared during a Metallica concert in Charlottesville and was later found dead. The trial in that case is set to begin Oct. 24.
Bob Frank, a public defender who represented Matthew, asked the court to sentence Matthew to far less time on Friday. He told the judge that Matthew had a difficult life, saying he grew up poor, his father was an alcoholic, Matthew had no serious criminal record and he was sexually abused as a child.
“He’s a gentle giant,” Frank said. “We ask the court to look at the total man, not just the monster portrayed by the commonwealth and the media.”
The allegation that Matthew was sexually abused was contained in a letter a former girlfriend of his wrote to the judge. The woman wrote that Matthew told her his father had taken him along when he cheated on his wife. While the trysts were going on, Matthew told her, he was abused by people she did not name. None of Matthew’s other family members or friends reported the sexual abuse in letters they wrote.
Morrogh said in court it had no bearing on the current case. Morrogh also said Matthew’s conviction in Fairfax County is significant because it could be a strike against him if he is convicted in Graham’s case, and the judge and jury are weighing sentencing him to death.
Gil Harrington, the mother of Morgan Harrington, said after the hearing that she and the Graham family were relieved that Matthew will spend the rest of his life in prison. Her daughter has been gone for six years, but it still seems unreal, she said.
“We are just starting to come out of the fog of disbelief,” Harrington said.