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Jesse Matthew Murder Trial on Hold for DNA Expert Witness

The murder trial of Jesse Matthew, Jr. has been delayed after a judge ruled this week that the defense would be entitled time to use the services of a state-appointed DNA expert witness.  Matthew is facing trial for murder in the death of Hannah Graham late last year, and will consult a DNA expert prior to mounting his defense.

Jesse Matthew, Jr. a Suspect in the Death of Hannah Graham

Graham, a student at the University of Virginia, disappeared in September of last year after a night out.  Suspicion fell on Matthew after surveillance footage showed him leaving a Virginia bar with Graham on the night she disappeared.  In October, Graham’s remains were discovered on an abandoned farm near UVA’s campus near the location of the remains of a Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, that were discovered in 2010.

After a brief investigation, Matthew was arrested for Graham’s disappearance and death, leading to evidence that he was involved with Harrington’s murder as well.  According to police, forensic evidence obtained after Matthew was arrested links him to the death of both girls, leading investigators to issue the following statement, “For the past five years, the Virginia State Police has been aggressively pursuing the investigation into the disappearance and death of 20-year-old Morgan D. Harrington of Roanoke, Va. Last week, the arrest of Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, of Charlottesville, Va., provided a significant break in this case with a new forensic link for state police investigators to pursue.”

Although the investigation continued after Matthew was arrested, police and prosecutors presented preliminary forensic evidence sufficient to charge the defendant with the murder of both Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington, as well as a 2005 sexual assault that took place in northern Virginia.

Jesse Matthew Requests Delay to Hire DNA Expert Witness

Given the forensic evidence linking Matthew to both murders, his defense team argued that he should be entitled to the opportunity to have a DNA expert witness evaluate the evidence and provide a report.  With the trial set to begin on June 29th, Matthew’s defense attorneys argued that they needed more time to allow them to find a DNA expert and review the forensic evidence.  Prosecuting attorney Denise Lunsford acknowledged that the Commonwealth’s case relied “in some way on DNA evidence,” and did not object to the motion to delay the trial in order to find the appropriate expert witness.

After reviewing Matthew’s request, the trial judge overseeing the proceedings granted his request to continue the trial in order to appoint a qualified DNA expert witness to review the forensic evidence used by the prosecution.  Given that Matthews is facing 20-years to life for his alleged crimes, the ruling comes as no surprise.  Defendants are entitled to a full and fair defense in criminal trials, and the seriousness of the charges combined with the prosecution’s reliance on forensic evidence necessitates a ruling that Matthew be entitled to the appointment of a DNA expert to testify in the upcoming trial.

The judge did not set a new trial date, but a hearing on May 5th will finalize the details of the trial and the expert witness who will be appointed to the defendant’s case.