Virginia Governor Ralph Northam traveled to Charlottesville today to sign two pieces of public safety legislation in response to the 2014 murder of University student Hannah Graham. State Delegate and Democratic House Leader David J. Toscano introduced the bills in the wake of the turbulent investigation of Graham’s killer, Jesse Matthew, asserting that the new legislation would have prevented the 18-year-old’s death. The first bill adds to the state DNA database, while the second closes gaps in the reporting of misdemeanor arrests.
Toscano’s legislation — House Bills 1249 and 1266 — was passed earlier this year during the 2018 Virginia General Assembly session. H.B. 1249 requires that adults convicted of assault and battery or trespassing submit DNA for analysis. Meanwhile, H.B. 1266 requires that police submit reports after all arrests for trespassing and disorderly conduct, and ensures that detainees’ photographs and fingerprints will be taken.
The Virginia State Crime Commission recommended both bills in the wake of Graham’s abduction and murder. According to Toscano, if the legislation he carried through the General Assembly had been ratified in Virginia years ago, Graham would never have met her killer.
“If we had [this law] several years ago, Jesse Matthew’s DNA would have linked him to a then-unsolved rape and attempted murder, a crime for which he eventually received three life sentences. He would never have been able to meet Hannah Graham, and she would still be with us,” Toscano said. “DNA is a powerful tool that can assist law enforcement in bringing the guilty to justice, while exonerating those who are innocent of crimes. This bill will help the Commonwealth do both.”
Graham disappeared in September 2014 after attending an off-Grounds party. Following a massive five-week-long search by the University and surrounding communities, Graham’s remains were discovered on an abandoned property in Albemarle County. Surveillance footage captured Matthew exiting a Charlottesville restaurant with Graham on the night of her disappearance, his arm wrapped around her as she walked unsteadily.
After Charlottesville police obtained a warrant for Matthew’s arrest in connection to the Graham case, he fled to Galveston, Texas, where he was ultimately captured. Authorities then collected samples of his DNA, linking him both to the September 2005 abduction, rape, and attempted murder of a 26-year-old woman in Northern Virginia, and to the October 2009 murder of 20-year-old Morgan Harrington, who vanished after attending a concert at the University.
Matthew was also found guilty of trespassing at an auto shop in Charlottesville in 2010. According to Toscano, if Matthew had been required to submit samples of his DNA or fingerprints following his 2010 conviction, he would have been immediately arrested for his previous crimes, and would never have encountered Graham. Toscano’s new legislation mandates that all adults convicted of trespassing now must provide DNA samples and fingerprints to police.
Northam’s Charlottesville appearance was a tribute both to Graham’s family and to the Virginia politicians who served as the architects of the two bills, according to Delegate R. Stevens Landes from Virginia’s 25th District.
“I am honored to be here to witness Governor Northam sign this important legislation into law,” Landes said. “Today’s signing is a tribute to the Graham family…and all those who worked so diligently to make this legislation a reality. By expanding the Commonwealth’s DNA database, we are providing our law enforcement officials additional tools to help prevent future tragedies and ensure criminals are held accountable for their crimes.”