FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — Jesse Matthew, who could eventually face a death penalty in the slaying of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, pleaded not guilty Monday in a separate prosecution that could send him to prison for life.
Trial began Monday for Matthew, 33, of Charlottesville, in Fairfax, where he is charged with attempted capital murder, abduction and sexual assault in connection with a 2005 attack.
Matthew, wearing a dress shirt and yellow tie, entered his plea on all three counts in a soft-spoken voice.
Matthew was charged in the long-unsolved Fairfax case last year after his arrest in connection with Graham’s disappearance yielded a hit on DNA evidence.
The victim in the Fairfax case has flown back from India to testify against him. She testified briefly at a pretrial hearing last week, saying that Matthew’s face looked familiar to her, but that his hair, now in dreadlocks, was different in 2005. Defense lawyers have questioned whether the woman can reliably identify Matthew as her attacker, given the passage of time and pretrial publicity that has frequently shown Matthew’s face in news reports.
Because of the DNA evidence, though, it is unclear whether her ability to identify Matthew will be an important issue at trial. Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh told the judge that he might not even ask the woman to identify Matthew in front of the jury and has said the question is a “non-issue.”
A pool of 100 potential jurors was called for Monday’s jury selection. Another 50 will be available Tuesday if needed.
After Matthew entered his not guilty pleas, the judge asked Matthew whether he was ready for trial. Matthew said no. His lawyers have asked several times to delay the trial, and public defender Dawn Butorac again sought a delay Monday.
“He said he’s not ready for trial today because we’re not ready for trial,” Butorac said.
Judge David Schell denied the request to delay the trial, which was already delayed once earlier this year.
“There has been ample time to prepare for trial,” Schell said.
The victim in the Fairfax case, who was 26 at the time of the attack, has said that she was walking home from the grocery store at about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night in September 2005 when her assailant grabbed her from behind, dragged her into a wooded area behind some townhomes and sexually assaulted her.
The Associated Press generally does not identify those who say they’ve been victims of sexual assault.
The Graham case, which includes a capital murder charge, will be set for trial later this month.
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