Hannah Graham: What role did DNA evidence play in the charges against Jesse Matthew?

Forensic evidence could be key to charging the Charlottesville native in the murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post/AP Photo/File
In this Nov. 14, 2014 file photo Jesse Matthew Jr., right, looks toward the gallery while appearing in court in Fairfax, Va. New information is coming in the case against Matthew.

Law enforcement officials say that Jesse L. Matthew, Jr. of Charlottesville, Va. has been charged with the first-degree murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, according to multiple news reports.

The new charge, first reported by CBS affiliate WTVR in Richmond and NBC affiliate WVIR in Charlottesville Monday night, was confirmed at a news conference with Albemarle County police and the commonwealth's attorney's office late Tuesday morning. Mr. Matthew was previously charged only with abduction with intent to defile in the Graham case.

Authorities have not yet specified what evidence was found to support the murder charge — one of many facing Matthew, who is linked to at least one other murder and a number of assaults dating back to 2002.

Ms. Graham, 18, was last seen with Matthew on Sept. 13. More than a month later, her remains were found on an abandoned property in southern Albemarle County — just 6 miles from the place where police found the body of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, three months after she disappeared in 2009.

Law enforcement officials have since confirmed that DNA found on the black Pantera shirt Ms. Harrington wore the night she disappeared matched a sample taken from a “wooden tip from a cigar butt” found in Matthew’s wallet.

The odds of finding matching DNA on those two items that did not belong to either Matthew or Harrington “is greater than one in 7.2 billion, which is approximately the world’s population,” according to a search warrant obtained by WTVR.

Yet Matthew has not been charged in connection to Harrington’s death and disappearance. Last fall, criminal procedure experts told ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia that any charges against Matthew in the Harrington case would likely emerge from a grand jury hearing. No such hearing has as yet occurred.

Forensic evidence in the Harrington case did match DNA linked to a 2005 rape case in Northern Virginia.

In October last year — around the same time Graham’s remains were discovered — a jury in Fairfax, Va. indicted Matthew in connection with the 2005 rape, WTVR reported. The indictment spelled three counts of attempted capital murder, abduction, and sexual penetration with an object, according to documents filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court.

Matthew has also been accused in two other instances of sexual assault. The alleged assaults occurred in 2002 and 2003, as Matthew moved from Liberty University in Lynchburg to Christopher Newport University in Newport News.

Neither resulted in a criminal case, according to the Post.

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