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Capital charge in Hannah death case

Published 06/05/2015

Jesse Matthew could face the death penalty if found guilty of abducting and killing British-born student Hannah Graham (Washington Post /AP)
Jesse Matthew could face the death penalty if found guilty of abducting and killing British-born student Hannah Graham (Washington Post /AP)

New forensic evidence has helped a US prosecutor to obtain a capital murder indictment against the man charged with abducting and killing a British-born student.

Albemarle County prosecutor Denise Lunsford said she will seek the death penalty against Jesse Matthew Jr over the death of 18-year-old University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

Ms Lunsford said she had received "compelling evidence" from the state crime lab in February, but she declined to elaborate.

Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins scheduled a hearing for June 25 to set a date for the trial, which Ms Lunsford expects to last three weeks.

Matthew, 33, was already being held without bond on charges of first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile.

Miss Graham, 18, who moved to the US when she was about six, disappeared in September last year after a night out with friends in Charlottesville, where her school is located.

Her remains were found weeks later about 12 miles from the campus.

Shackled and handcuffed, Matthew showed no emotion at a hearing in Charlottesville. He had been served with the new indictment earlier in the day, Ms Lunsford said.

She said that while the new forensic evidence was crucial, many factors went into pursuing a death penalty case.

"I would consider the nature of the offence, the history of the defendant, the exact nature of what happened," she said.

Miss Graham met friends at a restaurant for dinner before stopping at two off-campus parties. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost, according to authorities.

In a surveillance video she can be seen walking unsteadily and even running at times, past a pub and a service station and then on to a seven-block strip of bars, restaurants and shops.

Matthew was the last man seen with her.

Ms Higgins appointed regional capital defender Doug Ramseur and Charlottesville lawyer Michael Hemenway to replace those who represented Matthew on the first-degree murder charge.

Police have said forensic evidence connects Matthew to another killing in the college town.

The remains of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington were found in 2010 in a field outside Charlottesville. She had disappeared after attending a rock concert the previous year. Matthew has not been charged over her death.

Matthew also faces trial on June 8 accused of attempted murder and sexual assault in an unrelated case in Fairfax County.

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