Jesse Matthew back in court, trial date set in Harrington case

Trial date originally set for Oct. 17, anniversary of Harrington's disappearance

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Gil Harrington, Morgan Harrington's mother, said she expressed her condolences to Jesse Matthew's mother after the hearing. 

John Pappas | Cavalier Daily

Jesse Matthew appeared in Albemarle County Circuit Court Wednesday for a status hearing on the Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington cases.

During the hearing, the court heard motions filed by the defense and set the trial date in the Harrington case for Oct. 24, 2016.

The trial date was originally scheduled for Oct. 17. The trial was rescheduled after it the court received notice that the date coincided with the anniversary of Harrington’s disappearance.

Matthew is charged with the capital murder of Graham and first degree murder of Harrington, as well as abduction with intent to defile in both cases.

A letter from an ex-girlfriend of Matthew, which says he was raped repeatedly as a child, was made public Tuesday. The letter was not addressed during the hearing, but Harrington said she does not believe the circumstances, if true, should impact sentencing.

“We as human beings have been given free will,” Harrington said. “Many people come from very difficult circumstances who have not gone out and abducted, raped or murdered."

After the hearing, Harrington spoke briefly with Matthew’s mother — the first contact she has had with the family. She said she expressed her condolences and understands that they are also going through a hard time.

“It was a mother-to-mother moment,” Harrington said. “I can see that they are suffering. I don’t have any animosity or beef with his family — our case is against him.”

Harrington said Matthew’s mother was receptive, and it felt like the right thing to do.

During the hearing the defense presented three motions, Nos. 14 – 16, to the Court in the Graham case, only the first of which was granted. The defense has now filed a total of 16 motions in the case, the majority of which have been denied.

Defense motion No. 14

Judge Cheryl Higgins granted the defense motion requesting permission to file future motions and responses under seal, making these court documents inaccessible to the public until the time of the hearing when they will be reviewed. This motion is necessary due to the intense media coverage of the Graham case, said Virginia Capital Defender Douglas Ramseur, Matthew’s defense counsel.

Ramseur said he is concerned about prejudicing information being released to the public when court documents are posted online, as well as the identity of witnesses, who may then be contacted by reporters.

Defense motion No. 15

Higgins denied the defense motion to allow the appointment of an expert to assess Matthew’s risk of future dangerousness. Ramseur said this information is significant as a mitigating factor in sentencing, and he would like this evidence to be on record during the trial.

Carrene Walker, assistant Commonwealth’s attorney in Albemarle County, said the evidence admitted from such a review is not admissible or relevant under Virginia standards, which only assesses a person’s threat to society, “not prison society,” Walker said.

The motion was denied for this reason.

Defense motion No. 16

Higgins denied the defense’s final motion to release the last four years of grand jury records as well as permission to hire an expert to analyze them in comparison with census data. Ramseur said the motion was filed in order to ensure that the jury would be chosen without discrimination.

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said the process of selecting grand jurors should be the first item reviewed, and the Court should not release identifying information for past jurors.

The court took the motion under advisement, but Ramseur said he asked the Court not to delay a decision, at which time the Court denied the motion.

In addition to reviewing these three motions and setting the October 2016 trial date, three hearings were also scheduled for the remainder of 2015: Oct. 7, Nov. 10, and Dec. 17.

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