Jesse Matthew pleads guilty to Graham and Harrington murders

(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved) Staff and The Associated Press – ALBEMARLE COUNTY (WSLS 10) -- Jesse Matthew, Jr. has pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abduction with intent to defile for the deaths of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham and Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington.

An Albemarle County judge sentenced Matthew to four consecutive life terms Wednesday afternoon, the maximum penalty for each offense. Matthew waived his right to appeal or withdraw his plea and waived any right to the possibility of early release or parole.

In exchange for the plea, the Commonwealth dropped the capitol murder charge against him in the Graham case, but reserves the right to re-indict the charge should he violate the terms of the plea.

Matthew did not make any statements during the hearing. His lawyer, who spoke on his behalf, said Matthew is sorry for his actions and loves his family.

During a news conference held after the hearing, Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci held a news conference to discuss the plea agreement.

"While no outcome will ever produce closure, this agreement promotes resolution," said Tracci. "This is not a time for celebration but it is a time for recognition."

Graham's father was next to address the crowd of media and supporters.

"The agreement concluded today has our full support," John Graham said. "Our overriding priority was that Matthew will never be able again to inflict his depravity on young women."

Morgan Harrington's mom, Gil, also spoke at the news conference. She called the agreement a "successful resolution in Morgan and Hannah's homicide cases."

"For six and a half years you all were determined and resolute to find the top tier predator that hunted in this community," she said. "That process has been successfully completed today."

Harrington also said the agreement will help her family heal. "The finality and accountability that has been achieved today with this plea agreement will allow our family to redirect energy into healing and recovery. Both are areas that we have neglected during our quest for justice for Morgan."

Matthew pleaded guilty in the September 2014 killing of 18-year-old University of Virginia student Hannah Graham and the 2009 slaying of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who vanished after a Metallica concert at the University of Virginia. He already is serving three life prison terms for a sexual assault in northern Virginia.

According to authorities, Graham and Harrington were young women in vulnerable straits when they vanished in Charlottesville five years apart. Harrington disappeared after she stepped out of a U.Va. arena during a Metallica concert and was unable to get back in. Graham, after having dinner and attending parties off campus, was captured on surveillance video walking unsteadily, and sometimes running, past a service station and a restaurant. She texted a friend that she was lost.

Additional video showed Graham crossing Charlottesville's downtown pedestrian mall, then leaving a restaurant with Matthew, his arm wrapped around her.

Graham's disappearance, which came at a time of rising national concern about sexual assaults and other crimes on college campuses, prompted a massive search. Her body was found five weeks later on abandoned property in Albemarle County, about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus and 6 miles from a hayfield where Harrington's remains had been found in January 2010.

After police named Matthew a person of interest in Graham's disappearance, he fled and was later apprehended on a beach in southeast Texas. He was charged with abduction with intent to defile, a felony that empowered police to swab his cheek for a DNA sample. That sample connected Matthew to the 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax, a Virginia suburb of Washington, according to authorities.

The DNA evidence in the Fairfax sexual assault, in turn, linked Matthew to the Harrington case, authorities have said.

The charge against Matthew in the Graham case was later upgraded to capital murder, giving prosecutors the option to seek the death penalty.

Matthew, who was a taxi driver before going to work at the University of Virginia hospital, also had been accused of raping students in 2002 and 2003 at Liberty University and Christopher Newport University, where he had played football. But those cases were dropped when the women declined to press charges.