Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr. was convicted Wednesday of a 2005 attempted murder and sexual assault — a case that had looked as it could delay his separate capital murder trial in the kidnapping and killing of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham.
Matthew, 33, unexpectedly entered an Alford plea on the fourth day of his trial in Fairfax, Virginia, in a September 2005 attack on a woman outside her Fairfax home, where she was choked and sexually assaulted.
In an Alford plea, a defendant doesn't admit guilt, but he or she concedes that the prosecution has enough evidence to win a conviction.
It is treated by the court the same as a conviction, and Matthew could face as many as three life terms when he is sentenced in October.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh told reporters outside the courtroom that he was surprised by Matthew's plea but somewhat relieved. Had there been a mistrial, "we would have had a problem bringing the victim back" from India, where she now lives, Morrogh said.
The plea apparently clears the way for Matthew to be tried in Albemarle County in the death of Graham, 18, a University of Virginia sophomore who vanished last fall and whose skull and bones were later found 8 miles from where she had last been seen. That trial has been delayed several times while authorities worked out the order of proceedings in the two cases.
Morrogh said the Fairfax conviction could pose major problems for Matthew in the Graham trial.
"Now he's convicted of about the most serious crimes you can be convicted of," Morrogh said. "That might put a little hitch in his giddy-up at his next trial."