A 35-year-old man pleaded guilty Wednesday to kidnapping and killing two Virginia college students, a deal that spared him the possibility of a death sentence but that ensures he will never be released from prison.
Jesse Matthew will serve four consecutive life sentences for the deaths of 18-year-old Hannah Graham in 2014 and 20-year-old Morgan Harrington in 2009. A judge accepted the plea in an Albemarle County court on Wednesday.
Commonwealth attorney Robert Tracci said the deal was negotiated with the support of the Graham and Harrington families, and it would spare the young women's families and friends from the emotional and uncertain trial and appeal process. Under the deal, Matthew agreed he will never be eligible for early release or parole.
"While no outcome will ever produce closure, this agreement promotes resolution," Tracci said.
Matthew had previously been sentenced to life in prison in the 2005 sexual assault and attempted murder of a woman in Fairfax, Virginia.
On Wednesday, Matthew's lawyer, Douglas Ramseur, told reporters that his client was remorseful.
"He had me express for him in court how terribly sorry he is for everything that's happened, and how much he loves his family and is sorry for everything they've been put through because of this," Ramseur said.
In 2009, Harrington – a Virginia Tech student — went missing after a concert in Charlottesville. Her remains were later found on a farm.
Graham disappeared from Charlottesville in 2014 after the University of Virginia student attended an off-campus party. Surveillance footage last showed her walking with a man identified as Matthew, authorities said. After an intensive search, her remains were found several miles away from where Harrington had been left.
On Wednesday, Harrington's family described in court the pain they had felt since their daughter was hunted by a "top-tier predator" more than six years ago. Her mother, Gil Harrington, told reporters that with justice achieved, the family could now focus on healing and recovery.
She encouraged members of the community to get to know their neighbors and look out for each other.
"Together, we can help save the next girl," she said.
John Graham, Hannah's father, added that his family's priority was to make sure Matthew could never harm any other young women. His family was proud of all Hannah had achieved, he said, including that her death had finally led authorities to capture Matthew.