Victim’s neighbor speaks out as Jesse Matthew pleads not guilty to rape charges

Posted at 9:29 AM, Nov 14, 2014
and last updated 2014-11-16 09:47:20-05

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. -- Jesse Matthew, the man accused of abducting University of Virginia student Hannah Graham earlier this year, pleaded  not guilty to felony counts of attempted capital murder, rape, and sexual assault tied to a 2005 attack in Fairfax, Virginia.

Matthew entered the pleas in a Fairfax courtroom Friday morning. Judge David Shell set a March 9 trial date for Matthew.

"Is Mr. Matthew prepared to enter a plea?" asked Chief Fairfax County Judge Dennis Smith.

"Not guilty," responded suspect Jesse Matthew.

"Sorry, I couldn't hear that," Smith said.

"Not guilty," Matthew repeated.

A soft-spoken Jesse Matthew pleaded not guilty to attempted capital murder and two other felony charges in connection with an attack on a 26-year-old woman behind a Fairfax shopping center .

"On or about the 24th day of September 2005, you Jesse Leroy Matthew did feloniously, willfully and deliberately attempt to kill RG in commission to with the intent to defile how do you plead to that charge?" said Smith.

"Not guilty," Matthew replied.

RG, as the victim is referred to, was walking from a grocery store off Jermantown road that September 2005 night.

Prosecutors say Matthew, now the prime suspect in the disappearance of UVa student Hannah Graham, whose remains were found last month on a vacant Albemarle County property, grabbed RG and sexually assaulted her in the woods by the Oxford Row town home complex.

"It was a horrible experience for all of us," said Carmen Reyes, RG's former neighbor. "We were all very concerned and it was very difficult for us to live here in this neighborhood knowing that somebody is outside doing those things."

Nearly a decade has passed, but the fear from that September night is still fresh for Reyes, who was pregnant and the same age as her neighbor RG at that time.

"It's a good thing that things are being solved now and we can be more at peace and especially for the victims they can find justice" she said.

The prosecution said the victim, a mother of her own now, is prepared to travel back to this country to face and testify against her alleged rapist in an eight-day trial scheduled to begin March 9, 2015.

Judge David Shell has been assigned to the case that will run Monday through Thursday of those weeks.

"This is a difficult process for anyone and for us to step back into her life so many years later I know that she's grateful but again I can't imagine what she's going through," said Fairfax county Commonwealth's attorney Ray Morrough. "I am grateful to her for her continued cooperation a lot of people would say I am done with this and walk away but she is a really fine person and looking forward to meeting her personally," added Morrough.

The victim and her family will be brought back to Virginia right before the trial.

Meanwhile, the defense has requested that Jesse Matthew who is also forensically linked to murdered Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington on the 2009 night she disappeared from UVa's John Paul Jones arena, be transferred back to Charlottesville before his Dec. 4 hearing for abduction with the intent to defile in the Hannah Graham case. He also faces a traffic violation.

The judge in Fairfax asked Matthew be transferred back to Northern Virginia after the December hearing.

Jesse Matthew at Fairfax court appearance (WUSA video grab)

2005 Sex Assault 

Authorities say that on September 24, 2005, a 26-year-old woman was returning from a grocery store in the city of Fairfax when someone grabbed her from behind and sexually assaulted her.

"We saw her purse on the front sidewalk," said neighbor Stacey Simkins. "He had already dragged her behind our units to the dark pool area."

The FBI would say later that "the offender was scared away by a passerby."

It wasn't until last month that a Fairfax County grand jury indicted Matthew in that case. The October 20 indictment came two days after authorities found what turned out to be Graham's skull and bones on an abandoned property eight miles from where the University of Virginia sophomore was last seen.

The 18-year-old Graham went missing before dawn on September 13 after being last spotted on several surveillance cameras in Charlottesville's Downtown Mall area. Surveillance video and other accounts led authorities to identify Matthew as the suspect in her disappearance.

Matthew was taken into custody September 24 on a beach in Galveston County, Texas, about 1,300 miles away from where Graham was last seen.

The victim in the 2005 case was able to provide enough of a detailed description to yield a police sketch. Years later, that information would link Matthew to the case of another missing young woman -- Morgan Harrington, a Virginia Tech student who vanished in Charlottesville in October 2009 and was found dead a few months later.

Jesse Matthew at Fairfax court appearance (WUSA video grab)

Prosecutor: Victim will fly from India to testify

At Friday's court hearing, lawyers for the 32-year-old Matthew waived the hearing of the charges against him. But according to the indictment in the 2005 case, he "did feloniously, willfully, deliberately, intentionally and with premeditation attempt to kill (the victim) in the commission of or subsequent to an abduction with the intent to defile."

The woman now lives in India and is prepared to fly to the United States to testify in the upcoming trial, Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh told reporters Friday.

"This is a difficult process for anyone, and for us to step back into her life so many years later (can be very difficult)," Morrogh said of the woman, who was 26 at the time of the attack. "I know that she is grateful ... I'm just so pleased that she is cooperating. And she has just been really a saint to me."

In addition to the victim's potential testimony, the FBI also said it has DNA evidence in the case.

One of Matthew's lawyers late last month tried to introduce a motion late seeking a sanity evaluation for his client. But a judge cut defense attorney James Camblos short, saying that motion could be filed and considered later, once a judge was permanently assigned to the case. Camblos wasn't in court Friday, and there was no mention then of another mental evaluation request.

Matthew is charged with abduction with the intent to defile in the Graham case. He has not yet been charged in the 2009 case.

Analysts say he may be tried first in Fairfax County, because authorities there have had more time to build their case, and they have potential eyewitnesses in addition to the DNA evidence.

Speaking about the timing of the two cases, prosecutor Morrogh said that "on a personal level, I'd like to get it going thinking about my victim. ... On the other hand, I recognize the situation and I'm totally flexible. Whatever the right to do is, that's what we'll do."