Jesse Matthew Trial
Jesse Matthew awaits trial for the 2014 murder of second-year College student Hannah Graham. Matthew, who was arrested in late September, was charged with abduction and capital murder. Cheryl Higgins, judge of the 16th circuit court of Virginia, has set his trial date for July 5 to July 29, 2016. The court is preparing for a trial by jury and Matthew could face the death penalty if found guilty. Matthew has a motions hearing on Aug. 20, at which Albemarle County Police Sergeant Terry Wells will give the first testimony.
Earlier this summer Matthew was found guilty in Fairfax on three charges in a 2005 assault against a Fairfax woman. Matthew's connection to the assault was made manifest after his arrest for charges against Hannah Graham — he was forensically linked to the incident and was found guilty on June 10 of capital attempted murder, sexual assault and abduction with intent to defile. He will be sentenced in October.
The 2005 sexual assault victim testified in the trial against Matthew. The case has been closely followed by Gil Harrington, mother of Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who disappeared in 2009 after a Charlottesville Metallica concert. Harrington’s remains, which were discovered three months later, have been forensically linked to Matthew. Matthew faces no charges in the case.
Rolling Stone’s “A Rape on Campus”
Since the retraction of the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” — and its mention by Columbia Journalism Review as “The Worst Journalism of 2014" — two defamation lawsuits have been filed against the magazine, one by University Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo and a second by three brothers of Phi Kappa Psi, who are 2013 graduates of the University. Eramo filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely — the article's author — in May, claiming that the “defendants made the defamatory statements about Dean Eramo recklessly and in purposeful disregard of facts, witnesses and evidence.” Erdely publicly apologized for the article in April.
Eramowrote an open letter to Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner on April 22, outlining the article’s negative impact on her reputation, the University community and the efforts to prevent sexual assault and prompt its reporting. Eramo is seeking $7.5 million in compensatory damages and $350,000 in punitive damages, as well as funds to cover all her relevant expenses. A fund, called “True Hoos,” has been established to raise money for Eramo’s legal fees. The fund’s goal is to raise $500,000 and has currently raised a little over $28,000.
Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity implicated in “A Rape on Campus," announced in April intentions to file a lawsuit against Rolling Stone. No suit has been filed.
Sexual Assault Policy at the University
The University on July 1 released an updated sexual assault policy, incorporating three new Virginia state laws. This policy will complement the "zero tolerance" approach to sexual assault announced by the University after Rolling Stone.
Per the new policy, the University Police must now inform the local Commonwealth Attorney within 48 hours of launching a criminal investigation involving felony sexual assault on campus. Furthermore, University employees are obligated to report relevant information about sexual violence to Darlene Scott-Scurry, director of Equal Opportunity Programs and Title IX Coordinator.
Scott-Scurry must then report this to a review committee and the committee will decide whether to provide details to law enforcement. Finally, the University must include a “prominent notation” on the transcript of any student suspended or dismissed for committing an act of sexual violence, a mark which can only be removed once the student fulfills the requirements necessary to return.
This update builds upon an interim sexual assault policy released in March, which took into account 600 comments from the University community.