Jesse Matthew seeks recusal of judge in Hannah Graham murder trial

WASHINGTON — The lawyer for Jesse Matthew filed a motion asking for the recusal of the Albemarle County Circuit Court judge slated to preside over the upcoming trial for the capital murder of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.

Capital Defender Douglas Ramseur is asking judge Cheryl Higgins to recuse herself because of her previous actions in the Matthew case, as well as her family’s connection to Graham.

Ramseur writes, “Jesse L. Matthew, Jr. is on trial for his life,” since Albemarle County prosecutor Denise Lunsford has said she intends to seek Matthew’s execution if the case goes to trial.

Matthew faces capital murder, first degree murder, abduction with intent to defile and two reckless driving indictments for his actions in September 2014.

In an early glimpse of possible strategies, Ramseur writes, “The defense anticipates there will be significant and extensive litigation over the use of search warrants in this case.”

During the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of Matthew, Ramseur says Higgins approved over a dozen search warrants sought by law enforcement.

Ramseur says the defense has both the constitutional and statutory right to contest the unreasonable seizure of evidence.

“It would not be appropriate for Judge Higgins to sit in judgment of herself and her own actions,” he writes.

In addition, Ramseur says Higgins has a daughter who was enrolled as a second-year student at UVA., when Graham — also a second-year student — disappeared and was found murdered.

Also, “a member of the judge’s immediate family attended a vigil for the victim of the crimes alleged against Mr. Matthew,” the defense writes.

During a previous hearing, Higgins voluntarily disclosed her daughter’s status at the same school as Graham, but said her daughter wasn’t acquainted with Graham.

“The decision regarding recusal implicates not only any actual bias but also the appearance of impropriety,” Ramseur says.

Higgins had previously set June 25 as the date to hear arguments about possible recusal, as well as to set a new trial date for Matthew.

Last week, in an unrelated case, Matthew entered an Alford Plea to attempted capital murder, abduction with intent to defile and object penetration, in Fairfax County. He will be sentenced Oct. 2.

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