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Judge: UVa murder defendant must wear jail clothing for now

CHARLOTTESVILLE (AP) A judge ruled Thursday that a man charged with abducting and killing a University of Virginia student must continue to wear jail-issued clothing and shackles in hearings leading up to his trial next summer.

Albemarle County Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins rejected a defense motion to allow Jesse Matthew Jr. to appear in court unrestrained and in personal clothing. Matthew’s attorney, Doug Ramseur, argued that courtroom sketches and news reports of Matthew shackled and wearing a striped jail jumpsuit already have possibly tainted the jury pool. Further prejudice should be avoided, Ramsuer contended.

Prosecutors argued against loosening restrictions, citing security concerns.

Ramseur said Matthew has not caused any problems and noted that 10 deputy sheriffs were in the courtroom — more than twice the number normally present for a felony jury trial, and more than enough to keep everyone safe.

Higgins sided with prosecutors, but said she would decide on a hearing-by-hearing basis whether Matthew’s restraints should be loosened enough to allow him to take notes. Ramseur slid a notepad and pen to his client and, with the judge’s approval, a deputy removed a waist chain that was linked to Matthew’s handcuffs so the defendant could get his still-cuffed hands on top of the table to take notes.

Matthew is charged with capital murder in the September 2014 disappearance and death of 18-year-old Hannah Graham.

Higgins also rejected, for now, a defense motion to bar people from wearing anything showing support for Graham in the courtroom. Graham’s supporters, including chief prosecutor Denise Lunsford, have been wearing pins with the initials “HG.”

“This isn’t the appropriate place for these messages,” Ramseur said.

Lunsford said Matthew’s right to a fair trial must be balanced against the public’s free-expression rights.

“The First Amendment doesn’t stop at the front door,” she said.

Higgins refused to bar the pins and any other symbols from pretrial hearings but postponed deciding whether they will be allowed at trial.

The judge also denied defense requests for court orders preserving all evidence and police notes in the case. She agreed with assistant prosecutor Carrene L. Walker, who said the state already is required to turn over any evidence that is potentially favorable to Matthew and that the orders sought by his attorneys were too broad.

Prosecutors agreed to a defense request for written notice of any plans to introduce evidence of “unadjudicated criminal conduct” at Matthew’s trial.

Forensic evidence has linked Matthew to the 2009 disappearance and death of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, authorities have said, but no charges have been filed in that case.

Matthew also was accused of sexually assaulting students at Liberty University in 2002 and Christopher Newport University in 2003, but the complainants declined to press charges.

In June, Matthew was convicted of sexually assaulting and attempting to kill a woman in Fairfax County. He is scheduled to be sentenced in that case Oct. 2.

– LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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