Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. pleaded guilty to the murders of then second-year College student Hannah Graham and Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington at the Albemarle Circuit County Court Wednesday. Matthew’s trial for Graham’s murder was originally set for July 5. The trial for Harrington’s murder was set for Oct. 24.

Matthew was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences for the murder and abduction of Graham and the murder and abduction of Harrington. The capital murder charge in Graham’s case was nolle prosequi.

As part of the plea bargain, Matthew waived his right to apply for conditional release, early release and parole, including geriatric release.

At a press conference following the hearing, Matthew’s lead counsel said his client took the deal to avoid the death penalty.

Prior to his plea, Matthew was charged with capital murder and abduction with intent to defile in the murder of Graham, as well as with the charges of first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile in the murder of Harrington.

The death penalty became a useful tool in these horrible cases.  Albemarle County played this one very smart and very craftily.   Matthew deserves to die.  He and his lawyers knew he deserved to die and that the state of Virginia was more than willing to oblige him.   He also had victims’ parents who had the wherewithal to make that happen.  So he bought his life.  He will probably live out his days with the worst of the worst, at Red Onion State Prison in Wise County.

Had Virginia not had the death penalty firmly in place, it would have cost a great deal more to prosecute this monster, not once but twice.  Additionally, there is always the remote chance that something can get overthrown on a technicality.

Hopefully, the victims’ friends and families can now get the closure they deserve.  They have survived the nightmare.

5 Thoughts to “The death penalty: a very useful tool”

  1. Gil Harrington, Morgan’s mother, showed an incredible amount of grace in her grief. Not sure I would have it in me:

    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.

    Cavalier Daily

  2. Ed Myers

    I don’t disagree with your analysis on the benefit of the death penalty in this case. However I caution that this powerful weapon can be used to force people who are innocent to plead guilty. There are many death row inmates that have been exonerated years later. I would be more inclined to convict someone of murder on compelling but not overwhelming evidence of guilt if I knew that they would not be executed.

    1. I would want DNA for the death penalty in most cases. On the other hand, this plea deal kept the families from being victimized again by having to relive it all over. Who wants to hear how your daughter died at the hands of a sexual predator? No one.

      I try to remind myself that some of those exonerations have been from legal indiscretions rather than from innocence.

  3. Steve Thomas

    This is one of those areas I struggle with. Ed makes some good points, as well as Moon. I think in cases where you’ve got the perp cold, the recent ambush of three police officers, resulting in the death of one, plus the murder of the perps spouse, capital punishment is justified. However, as Ed points out, there are cases where pressured confessions or poor legal representation have resulted in unjustified death sentences. It is a powerful deterrent, but not an ultimate one. It needs to be judiciously applied.

    But I am thankful that we as a society struggle with it. It means we cling to some level of morality.

    1. What an excellent point, Steve. We should keep having to struggle with it.

      I struggle with how we sentence people even. Take for example, George Huguely, who, in a fit of drunken rage, killed his girlfriend. I watched some recently released footage of his interrogation. Even though the boy was probably a spoiled brat, a drunk, and overly indulged by his parents, I don’t believe he went to kill Yeardley–He was convicted of 2nd degree murder, not manslaughter. Yet got 23 years in prison.

      Should he do prison time. Yes. But 23 years for what was clearly an accident? That was as many years as he was old at the time of the crime. Criminal justice was under great scrutiny over that crime. Both were rich families and there were high expectations for a conviction. Had we been dealing with middle class young adults, or poor ones, I doubt if the outcome would have been the same.

      23 years is a long time. Being stupid and out of control resulted in a crime of passion. Should we treat that the same as a sexual predator? I don’t know. I struggle but I am very uncomfortable over what happened to that young man.

      Yes, I am also uncomfortable over a girl dying because of drunken anger….

      I have learned one thing. Justice is not blind to money. It has a keen eye for green.

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