Questions, No Answers

Alleged U.Va. Abductor Accused of Rape at Christian College

Jesse Matthew was accused of rape 12 years ago at Liberty University.


Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected and updated as explained below.

UPDATE: After this article was published, Liberty University contacted The Daily Beast and disputed certain parts of the story. While the Department of Education informed Liberty University in a letter that it intended to fine the university $165,000 for allegedly failing to comply with certain requirements of the Clery Act, the University initiated an appeal and subsequently settled the matter for a reduced fine. In resolving the matter, the Department of Education admitted that several statements in its intent-to-fine letter were erroneous and acknowledged that the original fine was not warranted. Relying on that same letter, The Daily Beast reported that one of the crimes that had occurred was a gang rape in 2005. The university said that there has never been any reported gang rape at Liberty University, and the Department of Education subsequently agreed, acknowledging that its statements in the intent-to-fine letter with respect to a May 2005 incident were in error because the University never received any such report. Liberty University said that while both sexual assault and consensual sex outside of marriage are prohibited by its conduct code, a person who makes a claim of sexual assault cannot be subjected to discipline for sex outside of marriage (or for violating campus drinking rules). The article has been corrected accordingly and The Daily Beast regrets that claims that were later withdrawn by the Department of Education were included in the original article.

Where is she?

That is the all-eclipsing question regarding the University of Virginia sophomore who went missing on Sept. 13.

When 18-year-old Hannah Graham is finally found, Charlottesville detectives will employ forensics to answer other questions, such as whether the man accused of abducting her, Jesse Matthew, used his position as an operating room technician to obtain a tasteless, colorless and odorless date rape drug that has earned the nickname Dazzle.

But there is another question that can only be answered by another young woman who attended another Virginia university in another city.

That young woman is the one who accused Matthew of raping her a dozen years ago at the sports arena at Liberty University in Lynchburg. The question is why she then decided to not to press charges.

Not that the student in this 2002 case should bear any responsibility for anything Matthew might have gone on to do. She was a rape victim in the all-too-common situation where the perpetrator insists the sex was consensual and there are no independent witnesses or conclusive physical evidence to challenge him. A trial would come down to “she said, he said.”

Both sexual assault and consensual sex outside of marriage are prohibited by Liberty University’s conduct code. A defense attorney would be able to suggest a rape victim at Liberty was lying because she risked being suspended or even expelled if she admitted to consensual sex, but the school says that a person who makes a claim of sexual assault cannot be subjected to discipline for sex outside of marriage.

As set forth in a handbook called “The Liberty Way” that is issued to every freshman, university regulations were so stringent as to prohibit students from entering dorms assigned to the opposite sex or from having physical contact beyond holding hands. Hugs were unofficially limited to three seconds. One wag joked that Liberty was the only university where football players and nerds got the same amount of sex.

Unless that football player was Jesse Matthew, a junior who had been the captain of the team at Monticello High School as well as a star wrestler before becoming a defensive lineman at Liberty. The question was whether the sex was forced, as the victim reported it was when she called 911 at 4:25 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2002.

According to Lynchburg Police department case file 2002071459, officers responded immediately. The victim informed them that she had just been raped at the university’s Vines Center and was now reporting it at the urging of friends.

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“Her friends said, ‘You need to report him,’” says Commonwealth attorney Michael Doucette, who did not work the case, but has recently reviewed the file.

The woman identified Matthew as her attacker and police interviewed him. He admitted having sex with her, but insisted it was consensual.

“She said she had not consented; he said she had and there were no independent witnesses,” Doucette told The Daily Beast on Friday.

The woman seems to have then changed her mind about pursuing the case. Doucette says the file indicates that an investigator telephoned her, but she did not return the call. The prosecutor who handled sex crimes at the time decided to drop the matter.

“It’s one of those things where you don’t want to victimize the victim by going forward with a case where she wanted nothing to do with it,” Doucette says.

Doucette emphasizes that there was no way to predict what followed.

“Our crystal ball is only so good,” he says.

That does not explain exactly why the woman suddenly wanted nothing to do with a case that she had initiated. She has yet to relinquish her anonymity and is unavailable for any comment.

While the Department of Education initially informed Liberty in a letter last year that it intended to fine it $165,000 for failing to comply with requirements established by the Clery Act in 1990 that all schools participating in federal student loan programs issue timely reports and campus-wide warnings of serious crimes, including sexual assaults, the University appealed and subsequently settled the matter for a substantially reduced fine. In resolving the matter, the Department of Education acknowledged making erroneous statements in its intent-to-fine letter. Liberty receives more than $500 million a year in federal funds.

“Clery Act violations identified at Liberty are very serious and numerous,” the feds charged in a 2013 letter to the school’s chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., son of the deceased evangelist who founded Liberty and went on to co-found the Moral Majority.

This hardly seems to be an atmosphere that encourages a sexual assault victim to follow through with an allegation. A university student advisory does note that pressing charges “can help a victim feel that she has retaken control of her life; control the assailant attempted to take away from her.” But this statement is preceded by a warning:

“A victim who presses charges against her assailant will have a difficult and often painful time throughout the course of the legal proceedings.”

Matthew was never actually charged, though he apparently did lose his football scholarship and he seems to have been asked to leave the university. But Liberty says that privacy strictures prevent it from providing any details. It is possible that he was disciplined not for a sexual assault, but simply for sex, which the school considers a violation of its honor code.

Matthew went on to enroll at Christopher Newport University and even briefly played on its football team. He then abruptly departed for reasons that the school declines to clarify. He drove a taxi for a time and then went to work in August 2012 as an operating room technician at the University of Virginia Medical Center. He likely would not have gotten the job if he had a rape collar on his record.

He also would not have passed the required background check when he became a volunteer assistant varsity football coach at the private Covenant School. A video shows him coaching at Covenant’s big win over Hargrave Military Academy on the afternoon of Sept. 12.

Other video footage from surveillance cameras shows him in the area of the downtown mall early the next morning, sidling up to Hannah Graham.

The two were seen at a nearby bar, where he purchased two beers. She is said by one witness to have appeared extremely intoxicated. She texted her friends that she was on her way to see them, then texted to say she had become lost. She seemed to be fleeing at one moment, but at another offers no resistance when Matthew placed an arm around her.

That kind of behavior would be in keeping with somebody who had been slipped a date rape drug such as Midazolam, aka Dazzle. Scientific reports online suggest that the UVA Medical Center regularly uses the drug as a powerful sedative in its operating rooms. A spokeswoman said Saturday that she could comment on whether the hospital is checking for missing drugs where Matthew worked.

In August, authorities in Canada learned that 16 vials of Midazolam had been stolen from a Halifax hospital. The public was warned to be on guard while drinking.

A Halifax woman reported that she had been out on the town and may have fallen victim to the drug after she became separated from her friends.

“I had gone into a bar that’s right around the corner from my house to have a beer before I ended the night, and that was the last thing I remember,” she told a reporter.

Perhaps Graham fell victim to a similar scenario after she became separated from her friends and ended up at a bar with Matthew. She would not have been able to taste, see or smell any Midazolam that might have been slipped into her beer. And that is just one date rape drug that can be either pilfered at a hospital or bought on the street.

The present charge against Matthew of abduction with intent to defile suggests the prosecutor may indeed suspect that a date rape drug was involved.

But that is just speculation. There may have been no drugs at all.

All that is certain is Matthew was with Graham and she is still missing.

Matthew complained about his jail-issued coveralls and the mattress in his cell after he was captured in Texas. But he is said to have kept to his constitutionally guaranteed right to remain silent when it comes to Graham. He reportedly has continued to refuse even to speak with detectives since he was brought back to Charlottesville. He is due in court on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the police and more than a thousand volunteers have been seeking to answer that all-eclipsing question.

"We don't know where Hannah Graham is and we have to find her," Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo said.