(FAIRFAX, Va.) — The man accused of killing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham has had his murder charge increased to capital murder because the state plans to seek the death penalty, the district attorney announced after a hearing on Tuesday.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said Tuesday that some new evidence was verified from a crime lab that convinced her to push for the increased charge.
She would not disclose any details about the new evidence, saying only that it was a “certificate of analysis” and that the findings were “compelling enough to me that I thought capital charges were appropriate.”
Graham, 18, went missing on Sept. 13 and her skeletal remains were found in a field about 10 miles away in October.
Jesse Matthew Jr., who worked as a medical technician at the university hospital, was taken into police custody in Galveston, Texas, 10 days after the sophomore disappeared. He was initially charged with abduction with the intent to defile, and charges for first-degree murder were added in February.
Lunsford said that the new evidence “further solidified” the state’s case against Matthew “and just basically made something an option that just wasn’t.”
She also said that Matthew has been assigned a new attorney who meets the state’s requirements for death penalty cases, meaning that the new attorney has tried a certain number of similar cases. Matthew has not yet had to enter a plea to any of his charges and remains in state custody. The next court date is set for June 25.
It was unclear whether Graham’s parents attended Tuesday’s hearing but Gil Harrington, the mother of Morgan Harrington, whose disappearance and death have been connected to Matthew by investigators in the past, was present.
“I don’t know what justice looks like,” Harrington said. “I’ll be satisfied if this particular predator is never able to hurt [anyone] ever again.”
Morgan Harrington disappeared in Charlottesville in 2009, five years before Graham. Matthew does not currently face any charges in connection to her disappearance and slaying but in 2010, after her body was found, investigators connected her disappearance to a 2005 sexual assault in a different part of Virginia; Matthew is facing charges in connection to that 2005 case.
“I really don’t know what the justification for changing the charge is but that some bad things happened, lives were lost, dreams broken,” Gil Harrington said.
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