CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Charlottesville’s police chief said Monday that it’s important not to rush the case against the man accused in the disappearance of a University of Virginia student, despite criticism of some of his decisions.
About a week after Hannah Graham disappeared Sept. 13, Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. came to the police station to ask for a lawyer. Matthew’s apartment had just been searched and while not a suspect at the time, he was considered a “person of interest.”
He left the police without being charged and sped away, prompting police to issue an arrest warrant for reckless driving, authorities said.
While Matthew was a fugitive, Virginia police added a charge of abduction with intent to defile in Graham’s disappearance, and he was arrested several days later on a Texas beach.
“We caught some criticism when Mr. Matthew walked out that door on that Saturday afternoon. People couldn’t understand: ‘How do you just let the guy walk out the door?'” Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We made a commitment to honor certain constitutional protections that people have in our criminal justice system, and as frustrating as it is, we want to be very careful to get it right, not to rush to judgment.”
At a briefing earlier Monday, investigators asked people who knew Matthew, a former college football lineman and sometime cab driver, to come forward with information so that they can develop a better profile of him. As they did, about 35 people scoured an area of hundreds of square miles surrounding downtown.
Longo said in the interview that the goal of asking for more information about Matthew was to try to figure out areas he may have been familiar with as they assess where to focus their search.
“What are the places where he’s most comfortable? … If you were to take someone against their will, you’re going to take them to someplace likely where you’re comfortable. You’re not going to go out in the dark and hope for the best,” he said.
Police say forensic evidence also connects the 32-year-old Charlottesville man to the 2009 slaying of Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student.
Longo declined to discuss the evidence against Matthew or whether he might be charged in the Harrington case.
Asked whether he expects to find Graham alive, Longo said: “Every day that passes is not a good sign. Every day that passes translates more to recovery than rescue. But at the end of the day, we still have to find Hannah Graham.”
He said he thinks about the case constantly.
“I lay in bed at night going over, what have we done differently, what could we do differently?” he said.
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