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Jesse Matthew pleads not guilty to sexual assault in Fairfax

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Posted at 1:09 PM, Nov 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-14 13:13:06-05

(CNN) — While he awaits the next legal steps in the death of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, Jesse Matthew appeared in court Friday to answer charges on another case — an alleged abduction, sexual assault and attempted murder from nearly a decade ago.

During a brief appearance at the Fairfax County Courthouse in northern Virginia, Matthew only uttered two words — “Not guilty” — to all three charges related to the September 2005 incident.

Judge Dennis Smith set a trial date of March 9. The trial is expected to last six or seven days.

Authorities say that on September 24, 2005, a 26-year-old woman was returning from a grocery store in the city of Fairfax when someone grabbed her from behind and sexually assaulted her.

“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.”

The FBI would say later that “the offender was scared away by a passerby.”

It wasn’t until last month that a Fairfax County grand jury indicted Matthew in that case. The October 20 indictment came two days after authorities found what turned out to be Graham’s skull and bones on an abandoned property eight miles from where the University of Virginia sophomore was last seen.

The 18-year-old Graham went missing before dawn on September 13 after being last spotted on several surveillance cameras in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall area. Surveillance video and other accounts led authorities to identify Matthew as the suspect in her disappearance.

Matthew was taken into custody September 24 on a beach in Galveston County, Texas, about 1,300 miles away from where Graham was last seen.

The victim in the 2005 case was able to provide enough of a detailed description to yield a police sketch. Years later, that information would link Matthew to the case of another missing young woman — Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who vanished in Charlottesville in October 2009 and was found dead a few months later.

Prosecutor: Victim will fly from India to testify

At Friday’s court hearing, lawyers for the 32-year-old Matthew waived the hearing of the charges against him. But according to the indictment in the 2005 case, he “did feloniously, willfully, deliberately, intentionally and with premeditation attempt to kill (the victim) in the commission of or subsequent to an abduction with the intent to defile.”

The woman now lives in India and is prepared to fly to the United States to testify in the upcoming trial, Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh told reporters Friday.

“This is a difficult process for anyone, and for us to step back into her life so many years later (can be very difficult),” Morrogh said of the woman, who was 26 at the time of the attack. “I know that she is grateful … I’m just so pleased that she is cooperating. And she has just been really a saint to me.”

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

One of Matthew’s lawyers late last month tried to introduce a motion late seeking a sanity evaluation for his client. But a judge cut defense attorney James Camblos short, saying that motion could be filed and considered later, once a judge was permanently assigned to the case. Camblos wasn’t in court Friday, and there was no mention then of another mental evaluation request.

Matthew is charged with abduction with the intent to defile in the Graham case. He has not yet been charged in the 2009 case.

Analysts say he may be tried first in Fairfax County, because authorities there have had more time to build their case, and they have potential eyewitnesses in addition to the DNA evidence.

Speaking about the timing of the two cases, prosecutor Morrogh said that “on a personal level, I’d like to get it going thinking about my victim. … On the other hand, I recognize the situation and I’m totally flexible. Whatever the right to do is, that’s what we’ll do.”