“I felt utterly helpless,” she said. “I feared this was to be the end of my life.”
A rapt Fairfax courtroom gave the woman attacked by Jesse L. Matthew Jr. a chance to convey the terror he inflicted, testimony that could play a role in putting Matthew behind bars for life.
The 33-year-old Charlottesville man has been charged with capital murder in last year’s death of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. But it was his decade-ago actions that were the focus of the June 18 hearing.
Publicly described only by her initials, R.G. said that September 24, 2005, initially seemed like “just another happy sunny day” before the then 26-year-old encountered a stranger as she walked home from a neighborhood grocery store.
Dressed for court in a crisp lavender blue shirt with her dark hair tied in a ponytail, the woman spoke calmly, with a petite physical appearance in stark contrast to Matthew, clad in a prison jumpsuit and seemingly three times her weight.
“You’re thinking this is a bad dream and this is not happening to you,” she testified. “I was black and blue. My nose was bleeding. I had trouble walking. Everything was hurting.”
The coming years, she said, were worse. She spent days unable to get out of bed.
“I basically had stopped living,” she said. “You’re suffering, so you don’t want to get up.”
Throughout the 10-minute hearing, R.G. never once stared at Matthew, seated beside his two attorneys.
“I have carried that memory with me even though it went into cold storage,” she testified. “It is worse than losing someone close because you find yourself in this vicious cycle of self-hatred.”
Neither of Matthew’s parents, who typically attend his Charlottesville court proceedings, were in the courtroom Thursday. His sister, declining comment, asked the media to leave the family alone.
The victim’s testimony will likely affect the judge’s sentencing decision in October, according to legal analyst David Heilberg.
“If it was moving testimony,” says Heilberg, “it will move the judge.”
Afterwards, prosecutor Ray Morrogh gave an opinion on Matthew.
“Even after 37 years in this business, I still believe most people are good, but some people are very, very bad, and he’s one of them.”
The trial, held earlier this month, ended abruptly when Matthew convicted himself by offering an Alford plea to the charges of abduction, sexual penetration and attempted murder. By that time, testimony had already shown that his DNA was found under one of R.G.’s fingernails.
Now living in her native India, R.G. says she returned to the U.S., where she’d studied, in order to protect future victims. Her efforts won the gratitude of Gil Harrington, the mother of Morgan Harrington, a college student whose body was found five years ago in a cow field after she disappeared from a Charlottesville concert and who has been linked to Matthew.
“It’s only once in a rare while—once in a very long while—that an exceptional human being becomes the hero of a sexual assault,” says Harrington. “R.G. is one such exceptional human being.”