Nearly six years after 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington disappeared from a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena, her parents sat within feet of the man accused of abducting and killing her.
Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., 33, was arraigned September 16 in Albemarle Circuit Court for first-degree murder and abduction with the intent to defile, one day after a grand jury indicted him. Gil and Dan Harrington were in close proximity to Matthew, who had been expected to be arraigned by video conference.
“It was not menacing and scary, but it was brazen,” said Gil Harrington about seeing Matthew in the courtroom.
It wasn’t the first time she’d been in the same courtroom with him. She’s been present at the hearings for the Hannah Graham case, for which Matthew is charged with capital murder. She was present in June for his trial for attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile and sexual assault stemming from a brutal 2005 attack in Fairfax.
And she was present last year at the trial for the murder of another missing girl, Alexis Murphy, 17, in Nelson County, for which Randy Taylor was convicted.
But this is the first time Gil and Dan Harrington had been in court to see charges brought against the alleged killer of their daughter.
Morgan Harrington was last seen October 17, 2009, on the Copeley Road bridge near JPJ Arena. Years before the disappearance of Hannah Graham became a national news story, hundreds turned out to search for Harrington, and for months after she vanished posters plastered the area. Her body was found in January 2010 in a field on a farm off U.S. 29 south of Charlottesville.
In the ensuing years, the Harringtons never seemed to give up hope that Morgan’s killer would be found. Every year on the anniversary of her disappearance, they commemorated the date on the Copeley Road bridge. They founded an organization called Help Save the Next Girl because they were convinced Morgan’s killer was still out there and they wanted to make young women aware of predators.
A few months after she was found, the Harringtons first learned of a link to the 2005 Fairfax assault and saw a drawing of the man identified by the victim.
That link didn’t lead to Matthew until September 13, 2014, when 18-year-old UVA student Graham allegedly crossed paths with Matthew on the Downtown Mall, and was never seen alive again. Her body was found in October 2014, also south of town just a few miles from where Harrington was found.
“We’ve known for some time we share a bizarre link with the Grahams,” said Gil Harrington after the hearing.
In court, Matthew’s capital lawyers in the Graham case, Doug Ramseur and Michael Hemenway, were appointed to represent him in the Harrington case.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said afterward she has no plans to join the two cases nor to seek capital charges in Harrington’s death.
“I’m not sure it matters now,” said Dan Harrington outside the courthouse. “I think it’s an incredible relief for us. It’s a very emotional day.”
“He’ll never hurt anyone else now,” said Gil Harrington.
She also thanked the media for not saying, “Oh, another pretty girl, too bad,” while covering the case. And she hugged reporters Ted Strong, a former Daily Progress reporter now with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and former C-VILLE Weekly editor Courteney Stuart, both of whom have covered the case for years.
“We’re six years out and we’re still going strong,” said Gil Harrington. “We need to find a new rhythm and pace as we switch to a new marathon.”
–with additional reporting by Samantha Baars
This article was updated at 3:50pm September 16.
Jesse Matthew indicted in Morgan Harrington slaying
Nearly six years after 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington disappeared from a Metallica concert at John Paul Jones Arena, an Albemarle County grand jury has indicted Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. for first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile. Both charges carry penalties of up to life in prison.
Matthew, 33, who is currently being held at Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, was served with the indictments September 15. He is facing capital murder charges in the death of 18-year-old UVA student Hannah Graham, who vanished September 13, 2014. Her body was found in the woods south of Charlottesville in October.
In June, Matthew was convicted of attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile and sexual assault stemming from a brutal 2005 attack in Fairfax.
Virginia State Police had confirmed a forensic link that tied Matthew to Harrington, who was last seen October 17, 2009, and whose body was found several months later in a field at a farm south of town, a few miles from where Graham later was found.
Matthew, a Monticello High grad, will appear in court by video at 12:45pm September 16.