Search warrant upheld: Judge denies motion to suppress evidence in Jesse Matthew case

Sue and John Graham leave Albemarle Circuit Court. Staff photo Sue and John Graham leave Albemarle Circuit Court. Staff photo

An attorney for Jesse Matthew called the search warrant for Matthew’s Hessian Hills apartment so broad it amounted to a “fishing expedition” because it didn’t limit what could be considered trace evidence and biological material. At a January 21 hearing, Judge Cheryl Higgins denied the defense motion to suppress evidence collected.

The parents of Hannah Graham sat in court for the three-hour hearing across the room from the man charged with the capital murder of their daughter. They were joined on the second row by Gil Harrington, mother of Morgan Harrington, whose 2009 disappearance led to murder and abduction charges against Matthew.

Defense attorney Doug Ramseur argued that the warrant used in the September 19, 2014, search of Matthew’s apartment was not only too broad, but that some items seized were outside its scope. “This search warrant as written has a number of fatal defects that make it flawed,” said Ramseur.

He listed seven items he felt exhibited “flagrant disregard” for the search warrant and should lead to the suppression of all evidence collected: a Samsung cell phone, two pairs of boxers, a wallet, a cigar butt, a paycheck, khaki shorts and toothbrushes.

Detective Jeremy Carper had no way of knowing the Samsung cell phone he took was the one identified in the warrant as 434-960-5198 and believed to be Matthew’s, said Ramseur. Carper testified the phone was on a table beside a wallet containing Matthew’s ID, and its battery and SIM card had been removed.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elliott Casey contended Carper had probable cause to believe it was Matthew’s because it was beside his wallet and had been disabled, and because Matthew had already indicated he wanted to leave town.

Ramseur also took issue with a pair of blue boxers and a pair of green ones taken that were not identified in the search warrant. Carper said another detective asked him to get them to have something a dog could sniff. Ramseur called it “general rummaging” under the guise of trace evidence, and said the detective did not see stains or hairs on the boxers to justify seizing them.

Carper used “unfettered discretion” when he took Matthew’s wallet with a receipt from Blue Light Grill the night Graham went missing, something the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled police may not do, said Ramseur.

The paycheck had a patent, or visible, fingerprint on it, and the search warrant only specified latent prints, said Ramseur. Police should have gotten another warrant if they wanted such prints, he said. Casey said, “A patent print is trace evidence.”

Perhaps the biggest item of contention was a pair of khaki shorts. The search warrant described “long white shorts,” which Matthew was seen wearing in a video with Graham the last night she was seen alive.

“These are not white shorts,” said Ramseur. “These are khaki. No one would confuse them with long white shorts.”

‘The shorts have hair on them,” countered Casey. “They were checked into evidence as white khakis.” As for whether they were long or short, that was “simply a semantic argument,” he said.

Judge Higgins disagreed items taken exceeded the scope of the search warrant, and said there was probable cause they were in connection to an abduction. “A search warrant has to be practical and factual,” she said.

Matthew’s next hearing is March 2, and he’s scheduled for trial July 5.

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