Prosecutor will seek death penalty in Jesse Matthew case

Prosecutor will seek death penalty in Jesse Matthew case
Jesse Matthew (Source: Charlottesville Police)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA (WWBT) - Jesse Matthew could now face death row, if convicted of the upgraded charges of capital murder. The bombshell dropped in Albemarle Circuit Court Tuesday, in Charlottesville. Prosecutors indicted Matthew with the new charges in the death of UVA student Hannah Graham.

Head Commonwealth's Attorney on the case Denise Lundsford says her team received new evidence, which made her push for the harsher charges, and the death penalty for Matthew.

Matthew appears before the judge in shackles. His hearing was originally to set a trial date for first degree murder and abduction with intent to defile. Instead, Matthew was bombarded with new capital charges.

Upon entering the courtroom, Matthew made eye contact with Hannah Graham's parents, sitting several rows back.

"If this matter goes to trial, the Commonwealth will seek the death penalty," said Lunsford to a gaggle of media outside the court. "(The new forensic evidence) …was compelling enough to me that I felt capital charges were now appropriate."

Matthew will now have two new capital defense attorneys. His lawyer up until now, Jim Camblos, is out of the defense team and refused to comment.

"I'm not on the team anymore. I have nothing to say," remarked Camblos outside the courthouse.

Matthew's family also left the court in silence, and in no doubt, distress.

If Jesse Matthew is convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, there would be an automatic appeal process. If that doesn't pan out well for Matthew, he would be the ninth man on death row in Virginia, right now.

"The commonwealth is not taking anything off the table at this point," continued Lunsford.

That includes a plea deal. A capital murder conviction carries a death penalty or a mandatory life sentence.

However, the sentence that Hannah Graham's family must bear is also lifelong.

Mother Gil Harrington carries the same cross. Her daughter Morgan's murder is linked forensically to Matthew, according to authorities. However, he was never charged.

"Our lives are still as empty. The pain that we'll have after trial is the same pain that we'll have today," said Gil Harrington, who attended the proceedings.

In Virginia, there are two forms of death a person sentenced to the death penalty may choose- lethal injection or the electric chair. Jesse Matthew is set to be in court again on June 25th. At that appearance, there could be a motion from his defense team to dismiss the judge in the case, who has a daughter at UVA, nearly the same age as Graham. The trial date will likely be set during that court appearance.

Click here for full #HannahGraham coverage: nbc12.com/hannah

Although Matthew wanted his attorney Jim Camblos to be part of his defense team, the judge instead appointed two other attorneys said to be more familiar with capital murder cases. Douglas Ramseur is an attorney based in Norfolk, and Michael Hemenway practices law in Charlottesville.

Matthew is also slated to go on trial in June for the 2005 rape and abduction of a Fairfax County woman. He's also suspected in the death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, although he has not yet been charged in that case. Authorities have said Matthew's DNA links him to Harrington's 2009 death.

Graham's remains were discovered in Albemarle in October off Old Lynchburg Road, less than three weeks after Matthew was taken into custody in Texas. Graham went missing in September following a night out on Charlottesville's Downtown Mall. Surveillance images showed Matthew following her before her disappearance.

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