Man charged in Charlottesville abduction was investigated at CNU

pdujardin@dailypress.com | 247-4749

NEWPORT NEWS — The suspect accused of abducting a missing University of Virginia student and linked to a slain Virginia Tech student was investigated in connection with a possible felony while enrolled at Christopher Newport University 11 years ago.

But Jesse L. Matthew Jr. — then a 21-year-old student and football player at the school — was  never arrested or charged in the 2003 incident.

In response to a Daily Press request for information about any criminal incidents involving Matthew while he was enrolled at the school, the CNU Police Department said it has "one document."

But the university is withholding all information about the case — including the nature of the complaint — because two police agencies involved in the Charlottesville cases have asked the school not to disclose it, CNU Police Chief Andrew H. Engemann Jr. said.

"We're not going to release any information about it," Engemann said Tuesday. "We have been asked to withhold the report because other agencies are conducting an investigation … and it could jeopardize their ongoing investigation."

Engemann would not provide the exact date of the 2003 incident report. He would not reveal any details of the complaint, such as the age, sex or student status of the person who filed it.

Matthew attended CNU from January 2003 to Oct. 15, 2003, university spokeswoman Lori Jacobs said last week. He was a member of the football team, a defensive lineman, for less than a month — from Aug. 14 to Sept. 12, 2003.

"Students don't usually leave in the second month of the semester or leave the football team within a month," Jacobs said. But citing federal privacy laws, she declined to say whether Matthew's abrupt departure stemmed from the criminal complaint.

Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, police must disclose basic criminal incident information about felony offenses — including a general description and location of the incident, the date and the nature of any injuries suffered.

But there's an exception allowing such information to be withheld if its release is "likely to jeopardize an ongoing investigation or prosecution." Another exemption allows broader "criminal investigative files" to be withheld.

Engemann cited both exemptions.

Matthew was not arrested or charged as a result of the CNU complaint. Any criminal charges brought by CNU's police department would be filed in state courts in Newport News. There are no records there indicating that Matthew was charged by school police.

Engemann declined to elaborate. "Releasing any information could interfere with this investigation, and that's why we have to be careful," he said.

The Charlottesville Police Department and the Virginia State Police are the two agencies leading the current investigation.

Matthew, 32, of Charlottesville, was seen entering a bar in Charlottesville with 18-year-old sophomore Hannah Graham in the early morning hours of Sept. 13. Graham has not been seen since. After being arrested in Texas, he has been charged with abduction with intent to defile.

On Monday, the Virginia State Police said Matthew's arrest provided "a new forensic link for state police investigators to pursue" in the death of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student. She disappeared following a rock concert in Charlottesville in October 2009 and was found dead at an Albemarle County farm three months later.

The State Police did not elaborate on the forensics link, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted a law enforcement source saying the forensic link was in the form of DNA.

According to numerous media reports, the FBI revealed in 2012 that DNA evidence from the Harrington case also provides a link to a 2005 case from Fairfax in which a woman was grabbed from behind as she left a grocery store and sexually assaulted in a grassy area.

And last week, the British paper The Daily Mail reported that Matthew was accused of sexually assaulting a female student while he was a student and football player at Liberty University in Lynchburg in 2002, triggering his departure from that school.

He then came to CNU.

It was unclear on Tuesday whether CNU knew of any issues Matthew had at Liberty.

"We carefully consider a student's application and transcript," said Jacobs, CNU's spokeswoman. "Our transfer admission policy is that students must be in good academic and disciplinary standing and eligible to return to the last college or university attended."

While CNU "records academic and disciplinary dismissals" on its own students' transcripts, Jacobs said, "not all schools do."

Asked if that meant CNU was unaware of Matthew's problems at Liberty before he enrolled here, Jacobs declined to say, citing federal privacy laws that "prevent sharing the educational records of individual students."

CNU Captains football coach Matt Kelchner — who was also the coach in 2003 — declined to comment about Matthew, citing the privacy laws.

Aside from the isse at CNU, there are no records of the Newport News Police Department bringing criminal charges against Matthew.

"The name Jesse Matthew does not appear in the Newport News Police Department's records management system," spokesman Lou Thurston said. Police don't name suspects unless they are charged, he said, but "I will say that we have no active investigation involving Jesse Matthew at this time."

Still, the Newport News police said they are looking into two cases in which Newport News women went missing in July and September of 2003. Both women are listed with the National Missing and Unidentified Person system, at findthemissing.org.

Autumn W. Day, then 24, was last seen shopping at about 7 p.m. on July 24, 2003, at a Food Lion on Warwick Boulevard near Hilton Village, according to a Daily Press news story at the time. Her car was found in the parking lot at the grocery store, a couple miles from CNU.

Sophie May Rivera, then 31, was last seen Sept. 7, 2003, at her residence in the 800 block of 31st Street, according to the national missing person's file. She has never been heard from again, and her children now live with their grandparents.

"I checked with folks in (the police department's special victims unit), and they're reviewing them," Thurston said Tuesday. "While there are no indications that Jesse Matthew has ties to either of those cases, the cases will be reviewed."

Daily Press reporters Andrea Castillo and Sarah Pawlowski contributed to this story. Dujardin can be reached at 757-247-4749757-247-4749.

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