Harrington family helps push Del. Rob Bell’s bill forward

Delegate Rob Bell of the 58th district has been pushing for a bill to keep criminal investigation files private.
Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 9:02 PM EST
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Delegate Rob Bell of the 58th District has been pushing for a bill to keep criminal investigation files private. Now, it’s advancing to the Senate.

Bell has been working with both the Harrington and Graham family, whose daughters were both tragically murdered by Jesse Matthew.

The Harrington’s tell us their daughter Morgan’s case is closed, but theirs is still open, which is why they are testifying for House Bill 734.

“We feel like we’ve suffered enough. We don’t want to go through that again,” Morgan’s mom, Gil Harrington said.

The Harrington family lost Morgan a little over 12 years ago. She was murdered after attending a concert at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. It quickly became a high profile case, and drew a of attention and cameras.

“We didn’t know who basically had killed her,” Morgan’s father Dan Harrington said. “We had some very ugly events occur where Morgan’s video and story was basically published. It was very disturbing to us.”

Gil adds that Morgan’s image was altered and brands used it to sell. Now the family is working with Bell to make sure other families don’t go through that same trauma.

The Harrington’s say they are in favor of House Bill 734 because it puts limits on who can access case records and it also informs the family of the victim that there has been a request, ultimately giving them the prerogative of putting an injunction against release of information.

“It would return the law to what it’s been traditionally, which would be in terms of other groups that want to get access, the agency could make the decision of whether or not to release the records,” Bell said.

“As many families do to create positive legacy for their beloved,” Gil said. “That’s how we want Morgan to be remembered, not through a rehashing of the details of her murder.”

The Harrington’s say that rehashing, is like ripping a bandage off over constantly.

“You don’t get over the death of the child, but you can get past it,” Gil said. “Bringing the information out again and again and again, makes that getting past that tragedy more difficult.”

The delegate says, if this bill doesn’t pass, the Harrington’s and the Graham’s will constantly be revictimized.

“Not even just this one time, but in six months, someone also asks for it, and eight months, someone asks for it,” Bell said.

Bell’s bill is past the Committee and the House of Delegates and has been sent to the Senate.

“They directly addressed why we need to do something,” Bell said.

They are testifying, advocating, because they want Morgan’s story told and not sold.

”You want to spare the pain that you are feeling for any other family,” Gil said. “I said at one press conference, it’s too late for Morgan, please, let’s help save the next girl.”

The Harrington’s say they believe in access and the media. They say they are trying to get privacy, and reach some sort of balance between the two.

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