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Forensics at Center of Missing U.Va. Student Case

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    Forensics at Center of Missing U.Va. Student Case

    The lawyer for the man charged in a University of Virginia student's disappearance says police haven't told him what evidence they have against his client in that case or another young woman's disappearance and death.

    Attorney James Camblos said he met with his client, 32-year-old Jesse Matthew Jr., for about two and a half hours Tuesday, but still doesn't know what police have on him.

    Matthew is accused of abduction with intent to defile, or sexually molest, 18-year-old Hannah Graham, who has not been seen since early Sept. 13.

    Virginia State Police said Monday that Matthew's arrest provided a "forensic link'' to the death of 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who vanished while attending a rock concert at U.Va. in 2009.

    Matthew is scheduled for a bond hearing Thursday on a charge of abduction with intent to defile, or sexually molest, Graham.

    Virginia State Police have not said much at all about what evidence they have linking Matthew to Graham's disappearance. Nor have they charged him in connection with the death of Harrington, whose remains were found in a hayfield three months after she disappeared from a Metallica concert on U.Va.'s Charlottesville campus in 2009.

    What they did announce Monday was that Matthew's arrest had provided a "forensic link" to Harrington's case.

    Two years ago, the FBI said DNA evidence showed that Harrington's killer also was responsible for a 2005 rape in northern Virginia, so Matthew could be linked to that assault as well. City of Fairfax police declined to comment, citing their ongoing investigation.

    On Sept. 24, 2005, a 26-year-old woman was abducted and sexually assaulted while walking home from the store about 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, police said. They said the assailant grabbed her from behind, dragged her into a wooded area behind some townhomes, and fled when he was startled by a passerby.

    Police described the 26-year-old woman's assailant as a black man in his mid-20s to mid-30s with a medium to heavy build, short hair and a beard. Matthew's current description: black, 6-feet-2, about 270 pounds with dreadlocks.

    Authorities seem to be working systematically to link Matthew's DNA to an expanding circle of attacks on women, Steve Benjamin, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, suggested Tuesday.

    Between searches of Matthew's car and apartment and his arrest on a charge of abducting Graham last week, police had ample opportunity to obtain genetic evidence connecting him to multiple attacks, Benjamin said.

    Sept. 19 searches of Matthew's car and home would have been opportunities to obtain DNA evidence -- perhaps from saliva on a toothbrush or dirty cup -- as a preliminary step that could establish probable cause to obtain a search warrant for a more definitive cheek swab, Benjamin said.

    "If you're going to rely on a DNA match (at trial), police are going to obtain what they call a direct reference sample," he said. "Anything else is helpful, but not as probative."

    Matthew showed up at the Charlottesville police station the day after the search and asked to see a lawyer. Benjamin said police could have asked Matthew to voluntarily submit to a cheek swab at that time, perhaps suggesting they were looking to exclude him as a suspect -- a common police tactic. It would take only an afternoon to obtain the DNA profile and run it through a databank to link it to other cases, Benjamin said.

    The only thing police have said about the visit to the police station, though, is that Matthew sped away from officers who had him under surveillance. Authorities didn't see him again until a deputy sheriff arrested him Sept. 24 on a beach near Galveston, Texas. By then, Matthew was charged with a violent felony in connection with Graham's disappearance.

    That arrest gave police authority under state law to take a cheek swab without Matthew's consent after he was returned late Friday to Virginia, where he is being held without bond in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. On Monday, Virginia State Police announced that his arrest had produced a "significant breakthrough" that investigators of Harrington's death will pursue.

    Harrington, a Virginia Tech student from Roanoke, left the Metallica concert and was denied re-entry, stranding her outside. Matthew, a hospital worker, had a license to drive a taxi at the time, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Her parents have always believed she was the victim of a serial offender. They even started "Help Save the Next Girl," a nonprofit foundation aimed at protecting young women.

    Harrington's father, Dan Harrington, said during an appearance on NBC's "Today" show Tuesday that he was struck by the similarities in their cases, but didn't think the two were linked until recently.

    "I thought it seemed very similar to Morgan's situation with sort of the question of her maybe being somewhat impaired, someone just picking her up and trying to take care of her," Dan Harrington said. "But it really came to light to me about two weeks ago when I saw a picture of the sketch as compared to Jesse... I thought, 'Oh my God, I think it's the same person."

    Graham's disappearance is on the minds of many people in Charlottesville. Having lunch on a park bench near the courthouse Tuesday, Cora Kessler, 21, said she has lived in the area her whole life. Although this case has made her more cautious, Kessler said she still believes her community is safe. "I don't want people to get the idea that it's full of serial killers," she said.