Jim Camblos: In defense of Jesse Matthew

WASHINGTON — In his first substantive interview, the lawyer representing Jesse Matthew in the Hannah Graham case says the past few weeks have been “very, very challenging,” yet remains hopeful his client can get a fair trial.

“The last time I checked you were innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not the court of public opinion,” says Charlottesville lawyer Jim Camblos.

Camblos, the former elected commonwealth’s attorney for Albemarle County, Virginia from 1992 until 2008 and assistant prosecutor in Waynesboro, Virginia until early 2014, spoke by phone with longtime Charlottesville reporter Hawes Spencer, who provided the audio to WTOP.

Jesse Matthew’s name became public when Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo declared investigators believed Matthew was the last person seen with 18-year- old University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, who was last seen on the downtown mall in the early hours of Sept. 13.

Matthew is currently charged in Charlottesville with abduction with intent to defile Graham. He is also suspected – and police say linked forensically – to the 2009 disappearance of murdered Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who was last seen after attending a concert at UVa.

On Friday, Albemarle County police released a statement that Virginia’s Office of Chief Medical Examiner had determined human remains found Oct. 18 behind a home on Old Lynchburg Road belonged to Graham, who was originally from Alexandria.

Camblos says he wasn’t made aware of the ME’s findings until a reporter — Spencer — told him.

“If you’re asking did anyone officially call me and tell me, nobody did,” says Camblos.

Camblos said he has not informed Matthew, who is at the Albemarle- Charlottesville Regional Jail, that forensic testing determined the remains were Graham’s.

“I’m sure he knows because they’ve got TV that’s on 24-7,” says Camblos. “I’m sure he knows by now.”

On Oct. 21, Camblos told WTOP he would not represent Matthew in Fairfax County, where his client was indicted for three felonies – attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile, and object penetration – for a 2005 sexual attack of a 26-year-old woman in Fairfax City.

Yet, two days later, Fairfax County prosecutor Ray Morrogh, while seeking a bench warrant, told the judge Camblos had contacted him, saying Camblos would ask the court to appoint him to represent Matthew in Fairfax County.

Camblos says he had a change of heart.

“I’ve known several members of the family for a number of years,” says Camblos. “That’s why they called me, because they have faith in me.”

With his client the chief suspect in the unsolved murders of Graham and Harrington, Camblos says he wants continuity in his client’s defense.

“I feel on behalf of Mr. Matthew and the family I should stay with it,” says Camblos. “He shouldn’t be bounced around from one attorney to another.”

Asked whether he’d asked to be court-appointed to represent Matthew if he’s eventually charged with the Graham or Harrington murders, Camblos says “It’s a wait and see kind of thing – we have to wait and see.”

Soon after Graham’s remains were identified Camblos released a statement on behalf of Matthew’s family, saying their thoughts and prayers are with the Graham and Harrington families.

“His family is an incredibly nice family, hardworking people, very devout in their religion and very, very kind,” says Camblos.

Camblos is determined to provide his client with a strong defense, especially knowing Matthew is being vilified by people who have not viewed the evidence – – evidence, which could eventually be used in a capital murder trial.

“I’m certainly hopeful that the system will give him a fair trial,” says Camblos.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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