FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — She flew half way around the globe to tell the world about a horrific attack that happened a decade ago, something she had placed into emotional “cold storage” and didn’t want to relive.
And on Thursday, the woman who sexually assaulted by Jesse Matthew nine years before he was charged with abducting and killing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham testified again about what she experienced in September 2005, on a night she was sure she was going to die.
“I felt utterly helpless,” she said, describing her emotions as Matthew was carrying her out into the woods to commit a brutal sexual assault. “I was screaming and I thought no one would come out. I feared this was going to be the end of my life.”
As it turned out, she survived when a bystander happened by and shined his car’s headlights into the woods where the assault was occurring.
Last week, Matthew was convicted of attempted capital murder, abduction and sexual assault related to the September 2005 attack. After three days of trial testimony, Matthew entered an Alford plea. That means he acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict but does not admit guilt.
The woman, who is not being named because The Associated Press generally does not identify sexual assault victims, was among those who testified at last week’s trial.
Thursday’s victim-impact hearing was designed to let the victim describe how the crime has affected her, and to help Judge David Schell determine an appropriate punishment.
Matthew will be sentenced in October and faces up to life in prison. Normally, a victim would testify then. In this case, though, the victim had flown back from India, where she now lives, to testify at trial. Her sentencing testimony was taken on Thursday so she wouldn’t have to fly back a second time.
The hearing lasted about 10 minutes. She did not look at Matthew, dressed in a green jail jumpsuit, while she spoke.
She described the physical pain from the attack and the lingering emotional pain. She said she wanted “to move away from home and go where people don’t know you and don’t know this has happened to you … I basically stopped living.”
For nearly 10 years, she kept the phone number of the Fairfax detective assigned to her case with her every day, because he had told her to call if she remembered anything.
She always hoped her attacker would be caught, but she acknowledged that when Matthew was arrested last year and she learned there would be a trial, her initial reaction was to avoid testifying.
She said her emotions “went into some sort of cold storage for a while, and your first instinct is to run away from it. But I gathered myself,” she said. “If I didn’t testify, what if this person is not charged and others were harmed? I did not want that to happen.”
Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Morrogh said he was deeply moved by the woman’s testimony and described her as “an amazing and wonderful woman.”
“Victims don’t have many rights in the system,” Morrogh said. “This was her day to stand up for herself.”
Later this month, a judge in Albemarle County is scheduled to set a trial date for Matthew in the Hannah Graham case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in that case.
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