Comings and goings draw more attention than Jesse Matthew

Gil and Dan Harrington drove two hours to be at a five-minute hearing for their daughter's accused murderer, and say they feel "honor bound" to be there. Staff photo Gil and Dan Harrington drove two hours to be at a five-minute hearing for their daughter’s accused murderer, and say they feel “honor bound” to be there. Staff photo

The status hearing for accused murderer Jesse Matthew had the former Monticello High student in court December 17 for what was basically the postponement of scheduling a motion hearing to bring in uncharged crimes during sentencing, should he be convicted of the murder, abduction and capital murder of Hannah Graham in July.

Garnering more attention during the brief hearing in Albemarle Circuit Court was Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford, who hands over the keys to the prosecutor’s office January 1 to Robert Tracci. He was there, and had been in the same court earlier in the day to be sworn in to the job that’s still Lunsford’s for two more weeks.

Before Matthew came into the courtroom, Jon Zug, clerk of court-elect, told Judge Cheryl Higgins that this would be his last appearance before her as assistant commonwealth’s attorney. Higgins came down off the bench and walked in front of it to shake Zug’s hand. “Good luck,” said the jurist.

More somber were the parents of Morgan Harrington, the Virginia Tech student whom Matthew is accused of murdering and abducting in 2009. Gil and Dan Harrington drove two hours from Roanoke to be at the hearing that barely lasted five minutes. Gil Harrington acknowledged the effort put in to be there, however briefly. “We really feel like it’s our duty,” she said. “We are honor bound to be here. It’s part of my covenant with Morgan.”

She noted the difficulty of the holiday season for parents of a dead child. “Maybe this is more of a distraction for us,” she said.

Although Matthew’s DNA was linked to Morgan Harrington during the course of the fall 2014 Hannah Graham investigation, he was not indicted with her death until September 2015, nearly six years after Harrington was last seen alive. “This is a really slow process,” said Gil Harrington.

That Matthew was charged in her daughter’s death has given the Harringtons some “psychic relief,” she said. “We feel more progress toward celebration and joy than in the past.”

After the hearing, Lunsford explained she was providing notice that the commonwealth would seek to use unadjudicated conduct during Matthew’s sentencing, and a motion to hear that would be heard January 11. Although she declined to comment on the behavior, Matthew, 33, has been accused of sexual assault at both Liberty University and at Christopher Newport University, but was never charged.

Lunsford said she wouldn’t take questions about this being her last day because it wasn’t. As for her plans for 2016, she said, “I got a puppy.”