Jesse Matthew Jr. Changes Plea in Attempted Murder Trial After Experts Claim DNA Links Him to Victim
Matthew is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge David Schell on Oct. 2
Just two days after his attempted murder trial began, Jesse Matthew Jr. changed his plea before his defense team could fully present their case.
Matthew, 33, of Charlottesville, Virginia, is charged with attempted capital murder, abduction and sexual assault in connection with a violent 2005 attack. He had pleaded not guilty on Monday.
But on Wednesday, after consulting with his lawyers, Matthew entered an Alford plea for the three charges, which acknowledges that prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him without the defendant having to admit to the crime, the Associated Press reports. By entering an Alford plea, he gives up his right to a trial by jury and to defend himself in court.
He still faces life in prison if convicted of all three charges. Judge David Schell is scheduled to sentence him on Oct. 2.
Prosecutor Ray Morrogh said Matthew entered the plea without any deal with the prosecution, according to the AP.
Matthew faces the death penalty if convicted for a separate case – capital murder in last year’s abduction and death of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.
DNA evidence links the 2005 Fairfax attack, Graham’s murder and the slaying of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, 20, who went missing in 2009 and was found dead in 2010 in a hayfield near Charlottesville, authorities allege. Matthew has not been charged in that case.
Matthew’s new plea came after the prosecution rested its case, saying that authorities had found DNA evidence under the fingernail of the victim in the 2005 attack that linked the victim to Matthew.
On Tuesday, Michael Boone, the lead detective on the Fairfax case, testified that police spent more than nine years investigating more than 40 people of interest while trying to find the attacker who left a 26-year-old woman bloodied and beaten on Sept. 24, 2005, according to the AP.
While Boone told the court that he had pursued leads for years, he said he quickly ruled out many persons of interest because their DNA didn’t match or because they had an alibi.
Boone said a big break in the case came when he obtained a search warrant for Matthew’s DNA after he was arrested near Galveston, Texas, on Sept. 24. Matthew had been the subject of a national manhunt after being named a “person of interest” in the search for Graham, who vanished in Charlottesville eleven days earlier. Her body was found on Oct. 18 on a vacant property outside of the bucolic college town.
Forensic scientist Nathan Himes, who analyzed DNA from the victim, her clothing and a cigarette butt, told the jury that the most substantial evidence came from under her fingernails, according to Charlottesville’s Daily Progress.
Himes said he found DNA from the victim – and from a man – but that he could not determine how that DNA might have gotten on her, according to the report.
During opening arguments, one of Matthew’s attorneys, public defender Robert Frank, warned jurors that DNA can be easily transferred. “There is a possibility that DNA came … from innocent contact,” Frank said.
During opening day of the trial, the victim, who was 26 at the time of the assault, took the stand, providing grim testimony of the night she says she still struggles to forget.
After flying back from India to testify, she told the jury that on Sept. 24, 2005, she had walked from her townhouse in Fairfax to a nearby bookstore, reading for a while before she realized that it had become dark outside, the AP reports.
She stopped at a nearby supermarket and started to walk back home. When she had almost reached her townhouse, she said a stranger approached her and asked her a question about directions, which she said sounded confusing. She said she tried to help him but walked away, saying the man’s demeanor left her unnerved, the AP reports.
At that moment, she said her attacker grabbed her from behind, picked her up and brought her to a nearby wooded area.
“He banged my head on the grass, on the ground,” the victim said in court. “I was trying to push him away. I was punching him. He choked me.”
She said she tried to fight off her attacker by kicking and scratching him and by screaming: “He said, ‘If you scream again, I will twist your neck. If you let me do this, I will let you go.’ ” She said she lost consciousness while he was choking her.
Her attacker fled when a bystander, Mark Castro, approached them.
“She looked like she was nearly dead,” Castro told the court, according to the AP.
“She was walking toward me, slowly. … She had a lot of blood on her. She was in bad shape.”
While she was on the stand, the victim did not identify Matthew as her attacker.
One of Matthew’s attorneys, Dawn Butorac, asked the victim why she had not told police earlier that her attacker had tried to rape her. On Friday, she told authorities for the first time about the rape.
“It was the most shocking thing and I couldn’t come to take it as a reality,” the victim replied.