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How police closed in on Jesse Matthew in the Hannah Graham murder

Newly unsealed search warrants describe why police believe Jesse Matthew murdered Hannah Graham. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

WASHINGTON — When police showed up at Jesse Matthew’s apartment and asked about the night he and missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham were seen on video in a Charlottesville restaurant, Matthew told police “I was really drunk that night” and didn’t remember.

Newly unsealed search warrants from September 2014 provide details of how police initially identified Matthew as the suspect in the disappearance and murder of the UVA sophomore who was last seen Sept. 13, 2014.

The moment Jesse Matthew approached Hannah Graham

A witness who called the Hannah Graham tip line told police she and her friend were walking along the Charlottesville downtown mall, about 1 a.m. on Sept. 13, when a man, who police now say is Matthew, tried to high-five her. The woman ignored Matthew, but watched as he approached another woman who was walking alone and put his arm around her. Police now say surveillance video shows the woman was Graham.

The woman told her friend, “He doesn’t know her.”

The witness and her friend followed Matthew and Graham into the Tempo restaurant and sat next to them. She noticed Graham had a pink smartphone in her back left pocket.

Matthew bought drinks and paid for them with a debit card. Later, Visa transaction reports receipts showed Matthew’s card was debited $15.30 at Tempo.

At last call, the witness said Graham asked her for a Marlboro cigarette. As the witness got up to leave, she remembered telling her friend, “he’s gonna <expletive> her up.”

In a court hearing Monday, a Charlottesville detective acknowledged that when shown a photo array in connection with Graham’s disappearance, the witness selected a man other than Matthew.

The mulch pile

Former Louisa County detective Stuart “Buck” Garner and his bloodhound Shaker were called by Charlottesville police to help track Graham’s scent after her disappearance. With Shaker leading the way, Garner, followed by Charlottesville detectives, left the downtown mall area and walked about a mile and a half east on Market Street to a neighborhood known as Woolen Mills, named for the mill that operated from the 1850s until the 1960s.

According to Garner’s report, on Sept. 17, 2014, Shaker was drawn to a large mulch pile area, where trucks dump loads of chipped wood.

“I found a large volume of the missing girl’s scent at this mulch pile, possibly fear or adrenaline scent was present,” Garner wrote.

The next day, Garner said, his hound continued to focus on the mulch pile, and believed Graham left the location in a vehicle, because there was no evidence of her scent leaving the area.

Garner wrote: “I feel that something powerful happened here.”

In court Monday, prosecutors said they believe the mulch pile is where Hannah Graham was attacked.

Matthew “really drunk” and doesn’t remember night he met Graham

A co-worker at University of Virginia hospital identified the man seen on mall surveillance video as Jesse Matthew, and told police he drove a “burnt orange, fast and furious type car,”

At 4:41 a.m. on Sept. 19, 2014, police arrived at Matthew’s apartment in the Hessian Hills neighborhood, armed with a search warrant for Matthew’s orange 1998 Chrysler 2D Coupe,

As Charlottesville police announced their arrival, Matthew came to the door barefoot, with his pit bull barking inside, and asked, “What’s up?”

Standing outside the apartment, detective sergeant Jim Mooney asked Matthew, “Have you heard about the missing girl we’ve been asked to investigate?” Matthew said “Yeah.”

Mooney, the lead investigator in the Graham case, told Matthew “We’ve got you on video downtown talking to her inside of a restaurant. We’d like to talk to you about that because you haven’t come to talk to us.”

Mooney said he hoped Matthew could help “figure out what happened down there, where she may have gone.” Matthew responded, “I was really drunk,” and said he didn’t remember.

When Mooney tried to clarify whether Matthew was saying he didn’t remember what happened to Graham or didn’t remember being downtown that evening, Matthew said, “I remember being down there.”

Matthew went back into his apartment to get some socks, then came outside to hand his car keys to police as they seized his car.

Mooney asked Matthew, “Did she leave with you? Was she in the car?”

Matthew responded, “Ummm …”

Mooney told Matthew, “We’re going to find that out and I’d rather hear that from you.” He asked Matthew to be straight with them.

Mooney asked Matthew, “After she left with you, where did she end up?” Matthew asked, “What are you talking about? … Should I talk to a lawyer?”

Told he wasn’t under arrest, and could talk with police if he wanted to, Matthew said, “I think I’ll just go inside my house then.”

At the same time, Garner and Shaker detected Hannah Graham’s scent on the passenger door of Matthew’s car, on the asphalt under the car, at a nearby dumpster and on the front door of Matthew’s apartment.

With the information from Garner’s investigation, police secured an additional search warrant for Matthew’s apartment, where they recovered Matthew’s Samsung Galaxy Mega phone, hair samples, toothbrushes, clothes and a cigar butt, which eventually provided the DNA to link Matthew to the 2009 murder of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, and the 2005 rape of a woman in Fairfax.

A third search warrant recovered white shorts and a maroon shirt, similar to what Matthew was wearing the night Graham disappeared, as well as a white towel with a reddish-brown stain.

What happened next

The next day, Matthew appeared at the Charlottesville police station and asked for a lawyer, but declined to speak with police about Graham. Later, as police tailed him, Matthew eluded them, setting off a nationwide manhunt.

Matthew was spotted and apprehended on a beach in Galveston, Texas, four days later.

Graham’s body was found Oct. 18, 2014, behind an empty house in a remote section of southern Albemarle County.

Matthew will go on trial for Graham’s murder July 5. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

His first-degree murder trial for Harrington’s 2009 murder — with a maximum penalty of life in prison — is set for Oct. 24.

Matthew was sentenced last October to three life sentences for the rape and attempted murder of the woman in Fairfax in 2005.

Below is a timeline of the night Hannah Graham met Jesse Matthew.

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