FAIRFAX (AP) A woman who authorities say was sexually assaulted by the same man charged with killing a University of Virginia student came face to face with her alleged attacker in a Fairfax courtroom Thursday.
The encounter was brief, and the woman’s testimony was focused on a narrow legal question, though she did testify that his face looked familiar. But the confrontation provided a preview of the courtroom drama expected next week, when a jury trial begins for 33-year-old Jesse Matthew.
Matthew, of Charlottesville, is charged in Fairfax with abducting and sexually assaulting the woman who testified at Thursday’s pretrial hearing. He faces a separate trial later in Albemarle County for the abduction and killing of Hannah Graham, whose disappearance last year prompted a frenzied, weeks-long search and drew national headlines.
Thursday’s hearing was to determine whether the woman’s ability to identify Matthew as her attacker had been corrupted by the passage of time and by pretrial publicity in which Matthew’s face has been shown repeatedly.
Matthew’s lawyers wanted her to be barred from telling the jury that she recognizes Matthew. The judge, David Schell, refused to do so, though the issue could be revisited at trial.
Schell said there was no reason to deal with the issue before trial unless there was some evidence that police or prosecutors had made some undue suggestion to the woman that Matthew was the man who attacked her.
The woman, who now lives in India and is not being identified because The Associated Press generally withholds the names of sexual assault victims, then testified briefly about what she had discussed with detectives about Matthew’s identity. She said she had once seen a photo of Matthew in a news account after police called her to tell her an arrest had been made. She also made a remark to police that Matthew’s face looked familiar but his hair looked different.
It is unclear whether her ability to identify her attacker will be a key issue at trial. Prosecutors have said they have DNA evidence tying Matthew to the attack. DNA evidence is also how police linked the Fairfax case to the case of slain U.Va. student Hannah Graham.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh on Thursday referred to questions about the victim’s ability to recognize Matthew as “sort of a non-issue” and suggested he may not even ask the woman to try to identify Matthew.
During Thursday’s hearing, the woman did not appear to make any direct eye contact with Matthew, who sat at the defense table in shackles and a green jail jumpsuit.
At the outset of the hearing, Schell rejected a motion from defense lawyers to close the suppression hearing to the news media based on the argument that it would create unfair publicity on the eve of trial.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday, and Schell said that about 150 potential jurors will be available if needed.
— MATTHEW BARAKAT, Associated Press