FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. (AP) — Jesse Matthew, charged with the murders of college students Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington, was sentenced to three life sentences on Friday in a packed Fairfax County courtroom.
Matthew entered an Alford Plea in June for attempted capital murder and sexual assault on a woman in 2005. DNA evidence collected from Matthew during last year’s investigation of Graham’s disappearance linked him to the Fairfax case, which had been unsolved.
Matthew faced a minimum of 45 years and a maximum of three life sentences. Matthew’s family and friends were there – so were Morgan Harrington’s. Even Hannah Graham’s parents were there, sitting in the front row as Judge David Schell handed down the punishment.
The judge accepted Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh’s request for three life sentences. While the state addressed the court, Matthew had his hand over his face, refusing to acknowledge the Commonwealth’s Attorney as the told judge was that if Matthew was abused as a child, he should “loathe doing that to someone else. That makes him even more dangerous.”
“He was hunting free from conscience – no restraint,” Morrogh told the court, describing the night Matthew attacked his victim.
He called Matthew a “modern day Jekyll and Hyde” who projected an image as a gentle giant to friends and family while hiding his life as a violent sexual predator.
“Killing her with his bare hands would have been the ultimate rush for him,” Morrogh said. “He seeks mercy but is himself merciless. He seeks empathy, but he is heartless.”
A letter from the victim, only known as RG, was read by the Commonwealth’s Attorney.
The victim lives overseas and flew back from Asia to testify in this case. The Commonwealth’s Attorney says they couldn’t have convicted Matthew without her.
“She’s the hero in this case and we think about her every day. She did a great thing and I know she did it not just for herself but for Hannah and Morgan,” said Morrough
Matthew’s family has asked the judge for leniency, and a former girlfriend wrote a letter on Matthew’s behalf saying he was raped as a child. Matthew’s attorney argued that his background should not be an excuse for his actions, but it should be considered for the sentencing and leniency should be considered since Matthew was only 24 at the time of the crime with no previous offenses. Matthews medical issues and alcoholic father were also brought to the judge during sentencing.
As the sentence was read out, Matthew’s mother, Debra Carr, began screaming “No!” and sobbed. She refused to move as deputies tried to take her out of the courtroom after the sentencing was handed down. She also shouted at the judge, “I hope you rot in hell.”
Matthew said nothing and left the courtroom under escort quietly, his head hanging low. He said only “No, sir” when asked if he had anything to say just before Schell imposed sentence.
As he left the courthouse, Matthew’s father ignored questions from the media.
“There’s loss and pain all around. RG lost her innocence. We lost our beloved Morgan. Jesse’s lost his freedom,” said Morgan Harrington’s mother Gil Harrington after the sentencing.
Matthew is also facing capital murder charges in the killing of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. In addition, he was indicted by a grand jury this month in the 2009 slaying of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington. Attorneys for both Harrington and Graham were also in attendance Friday for the Fairfax County sentencing hearing. His trial in the Hannah Graham case is set for July 2016; there he faces a possible death sentence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
8News’ Kristin Smith contributed to this report from Fairfax County.