Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. pleaded guilty to the murders of University student Hannah Graham and Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington at the Albemarle Circuit County Court Wednesday. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences.
Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci said the plea deal avoids re-victimizing the families and “serves the interest of justice.”
During and after the hearing, the families of the affected parties — the Grahams, Harringtons and Matthews — reflected on their personal experiences.
For the Harringtons, whose daughter was abducted in the fall of 2009, this moment has been over six years in the making.
“Our family has felt the pain of this loss acutely every second of every day for the last six and a half years,” Dan Harrington, Morgan’s father, said in a victim impact statement during the hearing. “We struggle to proceed in a world that has gone gray.”
On Matthew, he added, “He robbed Morgan of her future.”
The Grahams have been awaiting closure since their daughter went missing in the fall of 2014.
“Our family is devastated by Hannah’s loss,” Susan Graham, Hannah’s mother, said. “[Matthew] dumped our beautiful girl’s body like a bag of trash to be picked over by vultures.”
The loss of their daughters has irreparably affected these families.
“It has been a long road,” Gil Harrington, Morgan’s mother, said in a press conference following the hearing. She thanked community members for not giving up on this case.
“We could not have survived the murder of our daughter Morgan without you,” she said. “They say it takes a village to raise a child. I know it takes a village to bury a child.”
At the start of the hearing, Harrington hugged every member of Matthew’s family who was present. She has previously stated she holds no ill will toward the Matthew family.
Matthew himself did not speak during the hearing, except to answer the judge’s questions and officially plead guilty. His lawyer Doug Ramseur, speaking on Matthew’s behalf, apologized for his actions and said he “loved his parents very much.”
After the hearing, the Rev. Louie Carr spoke on behalf of Matthew’s family.
“Words cannot express our sadness on what has happened,” he said. “We want to express to the Harrington and the Graham families our sorrow.”
He noted the family’s struggle to comprehend how Matthew had committed these actions.
“It is difficult for us to understand how a gentle soul transformed into this type of individual,” Carr said.
For University students, there is hope Wednesday’s decision may offer closure, University President Teresa Sullivan said in a statement.
“We hope that today’s court appearance . . . will bring some sense of closure and peace to [the victims’] families and friends and to the many communities affected by these heartbreaking events,” Sullivan said.
University students actively participated in the search for Graham and held a widely attended vigil in her honor before her remains were found.
At the press conference following the hearing, John Graham remarked that, though his daughter’s life was cut short, she provided a service to the community.
“Hannah's enduring gift to us all is that she did help apprehend this terrible man,” he said. "She changed the world at a terrible price."
The families ended their reflections by looking forward.
“Together we can help save the next girl,” Gil Harrington said.