CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The owner of a bar where a missing University of Virginia student was last seen with a man charged in her abduction says she could barely walk that night without the man’s support.
Tempo Restaurant owner Brice Cunningham told The Associated Press on Sept. 25 that Hannah Graham appeared to be incapacitated as she walked away with Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. nearly two weeks ago.
Matthew, a 32-year-old operating room technician at the university’s hospital, had been drinking at the bar earlier that night before he encountered the 18-year-old sophomore outside on Charlottesville’s pedestrian Downtown Mall, Cunningham said.
Matthew then briefly re-entered the bar, ordered what credit card records suggest were two beers, and rejoined the teenager outside. The bar’s door monitor told police they walked off with Matthew’s arm around her for support, he said.
Matthew was charged with “abduction with intent to defile” the sophomore after he fled police questioning on Sept. 20. He made it as far as the Texas beach town of Gilchrist, 1,260 miles from home and about a seven-hour drive from the border.
Authorities had been concerned he would try to cross into Mexico, according to a person familiar with the search who spoke with the AP on condition of anonymity, for lack of authorization to publicly discuss the investigation.
“We seem to be the end of the road,” said Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset. “For us, it’s not strange that someone like that would be arrested here.”
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound former college football player waived extradition as Virginia authorities arrived to take him back. He was caught the day before when a deputy responding to a suspicious person report found his tent and car.
Matthew refused to identify himself, but his plates gave him away. “I’m glad this individual is off the streets. If he has done anything wrong to her, or anyone else … Godspeed to her family,” the sheriff said.
Graham went missing Sept. 13, after a night of partying in the college town, and search efforts initially focused on Charlottesville. Investigators have since received more than 1,500 tips and expanded the search to surrounding forests, farms and vineyards. Longo asked land owners and real estate agents to search their properties and vacant houses.
“We still have no idea whatsoever where she is, despite our best efforts,” Longo said. “We have an obligation to bring her home, one way or the other. That’s what we promised to do.”
Police said they had probable cause to support the charge against Matthew after twice searching his apartment and gathering evidence they have not described. A crime lab is testing clothing recovered through search warrants, but police haven’t said whose clothing that was.
“Defile,” in a legal context, means “sexually molest.”
“It’s a crime that’s much easier to charge than it is to prove,” said Steve Benjamin, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “The great unknown here is what was found in the vehicle and the apartment, whether there was any item of hers found that becomes important circumstantial evidence.”
Surveillance videos captured some of what Graham did the night she vanished. Authorities say she met friends at a restaurant for dinner Sept. 12 before stopping by two parties at off-campus housing units. She left the second party alone and eventually texted a friend saying she was lost, authorities said.
She can be seen walking unsteadily and even running at times, past a pub and a service station and then onto seven-block pedestrian strip that includes the Tempo Restaurant. Longo said that police have no reason to believe she and Matthew knew each other before their encounter.
Cunningham said the teenager never tried to come inside and that no one saw Matthew take any alcoholic beverages out to her. “She was not served” inside the restaurant, he said.
Longo declined to challenge that version on Sept. 25th, but said “I will tell you we have at least one witness who will put her in that restaurant.”
Matthew joined the staff of the University of Virginia Medical Center on Aug. 12, 2012, the university said.
Dave Hansen, who met him a decade ago while serving as an assistant pastor at a church Matthew attended, recently saw him again at the hospital. He was surprised at the allegations.
“I always thought he was a gentle giant, just a nice guy,” Hansen said. “He seemed genuine with his faith and spirituality. … I don’t see him doing this at all, but that’s usually the case, I guess.”
Matthew attended Liberty University from 2000 to 2002, and played as a defensive lineman on the football team, according to the Lynchburg school founded by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.
More recently, he volunteered to help coach football at The Covenant School, a private Christian grade school in Charlottesville, where officials said he had passed background and reference checks.
Matthew has a criminal record, but details aren’t public. Court records show a 2010 trespassing conviction, and he was charged but not prosecuted with assault and attempted grand larceny in a 2009 case. He had a state taxi permit from 2007 to 2010, and picked up several traffic infractions, records show.
By Alan Suderman and Michael Graczyk. Jill Craig and David J. Phillip reported from Galveston, Texas. Other Associated Press contributors include Larry O’Dell and Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Virginia; and David Warren in Dallas