Defense seeks recusal of judge in Jesse Matthew case

Request for recusal of Judge Cheryl Higgins will be discussed June 25

Virginia Capital Defender Douglas Ramseur and Charlottesville attorney Michael Hemenway filed a motion Tuesday formally requesting that Judge Cheryl Higgins — who is currently presiding over the trial of Jesse Matthew in Albemarle County for charges relating to the disappearance and death of former second-year College student Hannah Graham in September 2014 — formally recuse herself from the trial. Hemenway and Ramseur previously submitted a series of questions to Higgins May 20, in which they expressed concerns about Higgins’ relationship to the case.

The motion said Higgins — whose daughter is a rising third-year student at the University — may be unable to preside in an unbiased manner due to her relationship to the University as a parent and any previous involvement she may have had in the case.

In response to initial questions from the defense, Higgins said a family member attended a vigil for Graham soon after her disappearance.

“To the best of my knowledge, one of my immediate family members attended a vigil for Hannah Graham one week after her disappearance,” Higgins said in her formal response. “It is my understanding that this vigil was held prior to the body being found and there was no indication that she was deceased at that time.”

Higgins also said neither she nor any family members were involved in the investigation of Graham’s disappearance and the arrest of Matthew, aside from her signing of search warrants.

“I did sign search warrants but I do not recall the details,” she said.

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said she did not agree with the defense’s request for Higgins to recuse herself from the trial.

“I have never asked for, nor do I think it’s necessary, that the judge recuse herself,” she said.

If Higgins decides she feels any prior bias relating to the trial, she will recuse herself, and the Supreme Court will appoint another judge, delaying the trial start date by an unknown number of weeks. Otherwise, the trial will proceed as planned.

“If she decides she does not have a conflict then we will just pick a trial date… sometime in the future,” Lunsford said.

The request for Higgins to recuse herself will be formally discussed June 25.

Ramseur declined to comment, and Hemenway could not be reached for an interview regarding the motion.

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