There will be no trial for Jesse Matthew Jr., the man who kidnapped and killed Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington and UVA student Hannah Graham. Instead, the 34-year-old pleaded guilty and was spared the death penalty. Still, the victims’ parents had their day in court. Sandy Hausman was there and filed this report.
John Graham told reporters he and his wife had said little about the murder of their daughter Hannah so as not to jeopardize the trial of Jesse Mathew Jr. Now, they feel free to speak out. Susan Graham said she and her husband feel acute pain when they imagine the torment Hannah suffered at the hands of Matthew, and she rebuked him for “dumping our beautiful girl like trash, to be picked over by buzzards and vultures.”
She said Hannah’s grandfather had died, less than a year after her death. Doctors diagnosed a stroke, but Susan Graham claims he died of a broken heart. Still, Hannah’s parents agreed that Matthew should be spared the death penalty.
“Our overriding priority was that Matthew will never be able again to inflict his depravity on young women," said John Graham. "Matthew’s deeds show that he is far too dangerous ever to allowed to be free. The agreement also spares Hannah’s friends who would have been witnesses, the community, and us the re-traumatization that a four week trial would have brought.”
Morgan Harrington’s father said he and his wife struggle to proceed in a world that has gone flat and gray – that Matthew’s brutality pierces their every day, but outside the courtroom his wife Gil said the end of legal proceedings could spark their recovery.
“The finality and accountability that has been achieved today with this plea agreement will allow our family to redirect energy into healing and recovery," Gil Harrinton explained. "Both are areas that we have neglected during our quest for justice for Morgan.”
She and John Graham thanked prosecutors, police and the public – Gil urging people to stay involved and help save the next girl. Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci also expressed gratitude to those who searched for the victims and investigated the crimes.
“Most importantly, I would like to thank the Harrington and Graham families who, in the face of enormous grief have shown uncommon courage, and in seeking justice for their daughters have shown determination and resolve in the face of unspeakable loss. Your wait has been a long one. Thank you for your faith and confidence in our legal process.”
On behalf of the Matthew family, one more person spoke -- the Reverend Louie Carr apologizing for Jesse’s actions:
"We want to express to the Harrington and the Graham family our sorrow on what our family member chose to do to your daughters. It is difficult to understand how a gentle soul transformed into this type of individual."
And Matthew himself apologized through his lawyer. Doug Ramseur expressed regret that there would be no trial – no chance to offer some explanation for his client’s behavior.
"Because this was a death penalty case," Ramseur explained, "Mr. Matthew couldn’t risk his life, and so that’s why we accepted a resolution that was there, that unfortunately prevented a full trial that might have enlightened the community about every issue that was in place in this case."
A former girlfriend claims Matthew told her he was abused as a child. Whatever his past, his future is now assured. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars with no chance for early release or parole.