Attorney Michael Hallahan requested that Nelson County Commonwealth Attorney Anthony Martin re-examine DNA samples and social media activity from the Alexis Murphy missing persons case. The request comes in light of new evidence linking Jesse Matthew — a suspect being held on an abduction charge in the investigation of missing second-year College student Hannah Graham — with the case of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who went missing in 2009 and whose body was found in a farm in January 2010.
A judge sentenced Randy Taylor, whom Hallahan represents, to two life-terms in prison in July for Murphy’s abduction and murder, and discussed a 20-year sentence in exchange for information leading to Murphy’s location.
“The offer that was made to him prior and during the trial was 20 years in exchange for her location — not a body, but her location,” Hallahan said. “Mr. Taylor maintains to this day that he did not kill Alexis Murphy. He turned that offer down because he did not want to plead guilty when he did not murder anybody.”
Martin has issued multiple statements maintaining there is no evidence to connect Matthew to the Murphy case. But upon request from Taylor’s attorney, Martin has ordered scientific testing to rule out any possible connection.
“At no time did the name Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr. ever come up by Randy Taylor or Mr. Hallahan until Matthew’s arrest in Hannah Graham several days ago,” Martin said in a statement released Oct. 2. “The Commonwealth will make sure that scientific testing is done in order to bring closure to the speculation.”
Taylor stated Murphy left his camper, where her DNA was found, with another man, later described as a black man with cornrows. Hallahan’s request is based on this testimony and unidentified DNA samples from Murphy’s car.
“With a high percentage of cases like this in the area that Jesse Matthew was already linked to, it was worth writing a letter asking the commonwealth attorney to request that the state lab compare Jesse Matthew’s DNA to the samples found it Alexis Murphy’s car,” Hallahan said.
Hallahan called for an investigation into Murphy’s social media sites as well. During the case, friends of Murphy testified about her strong social media presence and her interest in older men. Hallahan wants investigators to see if Murphy and Matthew had connections on social media which were not investigated during the case.
“Alexis Murphy had over 1000 followers on Twitter at the time of the investigation, and the law enforcement and FBI did not have any reason to know the name Jesse Matthew,” Hallahan said. “So I asked them to look through the contacts to see if there is a connection.”
Hallahan has also applied for an appeal for the Taylor case based on errors made during the trial. New evidence cannot be brought into the appellate court.
Law Prof. Brandon Garrett said the criminal appeals process usually does not change the results of the sentence or the verdict. Only about one percent of criminal appeals have success in gaining a different outcome.
“Appeals judges do not look at a case with fresh eyes,” Garrett said. “Instead they are quite reluctant to review a ‘cold record’ of a trial that they were not present at and where it was the jury's job to decide the facts. “
Hallahan has tried only two successful appeals in the past 14 years. If Matthew is connected to the Murphy case, Taylor would receive a retrial as opposed to an appeal based on the new evidence.
“There are remedies in the legal system for Randy Taylor’s case to be fixed based on the Matthew case,” Hallahan said. “It is nearly impossible to have a case overturned in the State of Virginia. If Matthew is connected, it doesn’t mean that Randy Taylor will walk. Since the commonwealth convicted him, his best bet is for a new trial.”