Legal expert speaks to Jesse Matthew’s anticipated guilty plea

Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington. Photos courtesy Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington. Photos courtesy Charlottesville Police Department and Virginia State Police

Jesse Matthew is set to enter a plea deal in the abduction and murder of Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington in Albemarle Circuit Court on March 2.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci issued a letter February 29 stating that although it is anticipated that Matthew will plead guilty and resolve both cases, Tracci’s office will not provide any additional details or comments before the hearing.

Legal expert David Heilberg says most capital murder cases now end in plea bargains, and he expected this as the likely outcome for Matthew and his defense attorneys, Doug Ramseur and Michael Hemenway.

“It would take the death penalty off the table,” which Heilberg says is likely Matthew’s motivation. “At this point, it can’t get any worse.”

Last summer, Matthew was given three life sentences for abducting and sexually assaulting a Fairfax woman in 2005. “You only have one life to serve,” Heilberg adds.

Matthew is accused of capital murder in the death and abduction of Graham, an 18-year-old UVA student who disappeared September 13, 2014, and was found dead several weeks later on Old Lynchburg Road. He has also been indicted by a grand jury for the 2009 murder and abduction of Harrington, a Virginia Tech student, who was last seen at a Metallica concert at the John Paul Jones Arena that October. She was 20 years old at the time.