Lawyer seeks sanity test for Hannah Graham suspect

Posted at 3:41 PM, Oct 31, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-31 15:41:20-04

(CNN) — An attorney for a man charged in the abduction of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham and assault of a different woman indicated Friday that he wants his client to undergo a sanity evaluation.

That development came as Jesse Matthew was arraigned Friday in the latter case in which he’s accused of sexually assaulting a woman in Fairfax, Virginia, in 2005.

Matthew separately is charged with abducting Graham, the 18-year-old sophomore whose body was found on an abandoned Virginia farm October 18, more than a month after she was last seen in Charlottesville.

In Friday’s arraignment in the Fairfax case, defense attorney James Camblos tried to introduce a motion seeking an evaluation for his client.

A judge cut Camblos short, saying that motion could be filed and considered later once a jurist was permanently assigned to the case.

Fairfax County prosecutor Ray Morrogh told reporters Friday that Camblos’ motion sought a sanity evaluation that would help determine Matthew’s competency to stand trial.

Matthew made a virtual appearance at the Fairfax hearing via video from jail in Charlottesville, where he’s being held in connection with the Graham case. In Friday’s hearing, he was arraigned on three charges in the 2005 case: abduction, sexual assault and attempted capital murder.

Analysts say he may be tried first in Fairfax, because authorities there have had more time to build their case, and they have both DNA evidence as well as a potential eyewitness.

Woman was dragged, sexually assaulted

In the Fairfax case, authorities say that on September 24, 2005, a young woman returning from a grocery store was grabbed from behind by an assailant and sexually assaulted.

“We saw her purse on the front sidewalk,” said neighbor Stacey Simkins. “He had already dragged her behind our units to the dark pool area.”

Simkins did not see the suspect’s face, but she immediately called police.

“The offender was scared away by a passer-by,” the FBI said in a statement, “but the victim got a good look at him.”

The victim helped authorities draw up a composite sketch, and now she could potentially be called as a witness at trial.

“I’d rather not say where she is, but she is cooperative,” Morrogh, the prosecutor, said last week.

Evidence may be challenged

In addition to the victim’s potential testimony, the FBI also said it has DNA evidence in the case.

But DNA evidence can be challenged in court, said HLN legal analyst and defense attorney Joey Jackson, as can the testimony of the victim.

“When someone is undergoing a trauma, as in this case the victim was, you have to wonder whether that traumatic experience could make what she saw reliable,” Jackson said. “On the other hand, the prosecution will argue that it’s emblazoned in her memory.”

Still, testimony and forensics may not be the only evidence in the Fairfax case. Now that investigators have the name of a possible suspect, Jackson said, they are likely chasing dozens of new threads, searching for evidence. For example, they would be looking for cell phone records, texts, surveillance video or toll booth receipts that might link Matthew to the crime scene, or any friends or relatives or business associates that might place him in Fairfax.

Matthew’s attorney to represent him in both cases

Camblos, Matthew’s attorney in Charlottesville, declined to comment on the charges or the evidence against his client in either city.

The Fairfax County judge granted Matthew’s request to have Camblos represent him in the 2005 case, though the judge also appointed a public defender.

In Charlottesville, prosecutors on October 24 said that they are still weighing which additional charges they will file in the Graham case.

The case could be more difficult to make, according to defense attorney Scott Goodman, since there may be no witnesses who could testify. It is also unclear what forensic evidence may exist in the case, aside from a surveillance video from the night of Graham’s disappearance — on September 13 — that shows Matthew, 32, apparently following her in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall area.

“In Charlottesville, the case is much more complicated than Fairfax, because the Charlottesville case relies almost wholly on circumstantial evidence,” Goodman said.

Matthew was taken into custody September 24 while camping on a beach in Galveston, Texas, some 1,300 miles from Charlottesville. He is the only person detained in connection with Graham’s disappearance, and was charged with abduction with the intent to defile.

CNN’s Paul Courson contributed to this report.