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Hospital worker admits murdering two US college students

Published 03/03/2016

Jesse Matthew agreed to a sentence of four consecutive life terms (AP)
Jesse Matthew agreed to a sentence of four consecutive life terms (AP)

A hospital worker pleaded guilty to abducting and killing two US college students, solving a mystery that began in 2009 when one of the women disappeared from a Metallica concert.

The other woman, British-born Hannah Graham, 18, vanished five years later under similar circumstances in Virginia, after a night of partying with friends.

Along the way, investigators solved a 2005 rape case and used DNA evidence to tie all three cases to Jesse Matthew.

In a plea deal, prosecutors dropped a capital murder charge that could have resulted in the death penalty and Matthew agreed to a sentence of four consecutive life terms. Those are in addition to the three life terms he was already serving for the rape.

A statement of facts said post-mortems found that Ms Graham had a broken nose and probably died of suffocation or strangulation, while 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington suffered a broken arm, broken ribs and a skull fracture.

"We cannot comprehend the selfish and inhumane action that took place that evening and we anguish over the suffering Morgan experienced that night," Ms Harrington's father, Daniel, said in court.

Matthew, 34, looked directly at family members during the hearing but showed no emotion.

Ms Graham's mother, Susan, described her daughter as "the most optimistic person we know" and said she misses her daughter's smile, her quick wit and snuggling up with her on the couch with a cup of tea and a favourite DVD.

Matthew, given a chance to speak in court, asked his lawyer to speak for him. Douglas Ramseur said his client wanted to convey that "he is very sorry for what happened and he loves his family very much".

Ms Harrington had stepped out of the Metallica concert and could not get back in.

Witnesses would have testified at trial that they saw her near where a taxi driver matching Matthew's description was working that night. Matthew was a taxi driver before working at the University of Virginia hospital.

Ms Harrington's black T-shirt, with the name of the rock band Pantera on it, was discovered, and DNA from it would prove crucial to connecting the cases.

In September 2014, Ms Graham had dinner with friends and attended parties off campus before deciding to walk home alone. She was captured on surveillance video walking unsteadily. She texted a friend saying she was lost.

Additional video showed Ms Graham leaving a restaurant with Matthew, his arm wrapped around her.

According to the statement of facts, witnesses would have testified that Matthew repeatedly made unwanted advances towards women in bars on that night.

Ms Graham's disappearance prompted a massive search and gripped the Charlottesville campus in fear, prompting female students to walk with friends or a group at night.

Her body was found five weeks later on abandoned property in Albemarle County, about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus and six miles from where Ms Harrington's remains had been found years earlier.

After police named Matthew as a person of interest, he fled to a beach in Texas.

He was charged over Ms Graham's disappearance and a DNA sample connected him to the 2005 rape, which in turn linked him to Ms Harrington.

Matthew was also accused of raping students in 2002 and 2003 at Liberty University and Christopher Newport University, where he had played American football. But those cases were dropped when the women declined to press charges.

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From Belfast Telegraph