Police Investigated Dozens of People Before Jesse Matthew in Fairfax Assault - NBC4 Washington

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Police Investigated Dozens of People Before Jesse Matthew in Fairfax Assault

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    Northern Virginia Bureau Reporter David Culver explains the strongest evidence so far in the Fairfax case against Jesse Matthew. (Published Tuesday, June 9, 2015)

    Police investigated more than 40 people of interest before their nine-year search for the man who brutally attacked a woman in 2005 led them to Jesse Matthew, a detective testified Tuesday.

    Matthew, 33, of Charlottesville, is on trial in Fairfax for attempted murder and sexual assault on a woman. He is also charged in a separate case with capital murder in the abduction and death last year of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham. The cases are linked by DNA evidence.

    Defense attorneys cross-examined the lead detective in the Fairfax case about other suspects and people whose names showed up in the detective's investigative file.

    The defense hoped to show jurors that someone other than Matthew might have been the perpetrator, noting that many of the people in the file more closely matched the victim's description of her attacker than Matthew, who is taller, heavier and slightly younger than the description provided to police in 2005.

    The detective, Michael Boone, acknowledged that he had pursued the case aggressively and pursued a wide variety of leads and tips, often clearing names quickly because they had an alibi or a DNA profile that ruled them out.

    Ultimately, though, Boone said the key to cracking the case was finding the person whose DNA matched that found under the fingernail of the victim, who scratched and fought her attacker.

    "We needed to identify the foreign DNA to identify the perpetrator,'' Boone said, though the judge later went back and ordered the jury to disregard his answer because of a defense objection.

    The defense asked jurors at the outset of the trial to be cautious in evaluating DNA evidence, suggesting that Matthew's DNA could have been inadvertently transferred to the victim by coming in contact with a surface.

    Fairfax City Police Lt. Joseph Trahey, the first officer to respond to the alleged assault, testified Tuesday the woman attacked in 2005 was covered in blood and appeared to be in shock afterward.

    A nurse specializing in sexual assault also detailed the injuries the woman received and her efforts to recover DNA samples after the attack.

    DNA recovered from the attack links Matthew to the crime, police said.

    The trial began Monday with testimony from the victim, who flew back from India to give her account of the September 2005 attack.

    She testified in detail about the assault but never explicitly identified Matthew as her attacker.

    Prosecutors had indicated before trial that they might not ask the woman to point out her attacker in court. And defense lawyers had questioned in pretrial hearings whether she could do so reliably, given the passage of time and the pretrial publicity that frequently broadcast Matthew's face in connection with the Hannah Graham case, which drew international headlines.

    Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Morrogh said the woman's efforts to fight off her attacker yielded the key piece of evidence -- DNA belonging to Matthew found under her fingernail, where she scratched him during the attack.

    But public defender Robert Frank, another of Matthew's lawyers, urged jurors to be cautious in evaluating DNA evidence. Frank said DNA can be transferred inadvertently by coming in contact with common objects.

    "There is a possibility that DNA came... from innocent contact,'' Frank said.

    Monday's testimony, though, centered on the victim, who told the jury that she had walked from her Fairfax townhome to a nearby bookstore and lost track of time while she was reading, not realizing night had approached. She stopped at an adjacent supermarket to pick up a few items and started walking back home.

    As she returned, she said a stranger approached her and asked her a confused question about directions. She politely tried to answer, and walked away, saying the man's demeanor left her unnerved.

    A few steps from her door, she said, her attacker grabbed her and scooped her up from behind. He dragged her back to some nearby woods.

    "He banged my head on the grass, on the ground. I was trying to push him away. I was punching him. He choked me,'' the woman said. "He said, 'If you scream again, I will twist your neck. If you let me do this, I will let you go.'''

    At some point, she said, she lost consciousness as she was being choked.

    She said the attack ended when her assailant dragged her to another location and ran off, right around the time a bystander was approaching,

    "She looked like she was nearly dead,'' said the man who intervened, Mark Castro. "She was walking toward me, slowly... She had a lot of blood on her. She was in bad shape.''

    In cross-examination, defense lawyer Dawn Butorac questioned why the woman had not told police earlier that her attacker had tried to rape her, which she disclosed to prosecutors only on Friday.

    The woman replied that "it was the most shocking thing and I couldn't come to take it as a reality.''

    Matthew faces up to life in prison if convicted.

    The Hannah Graham case will be tried separately in Albemarle County at a date to be determined. Prosecutors there are seeking the death penalty.