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Grahams Ask Senate Committee to Expand DNA Collecting

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Susan Graham speaking to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. Susan Graham speaking to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
John Graham speaking to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee. John Graham speaking to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.
Hannah Graham Hannah Graham
Jesse Matthew being escorted through Albemarle Circuit Court (FILE IMAGE) Jesse Matthew being escorted through Albemarle Circuit Court (FILE IMAGE)
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) -

The parents of murdered University of Virginia student Hannah Graham make a passionate plea to lawmakers to pass a bill they say could have saved their daughter’s life.

"Please don't let what happened to my beautiful daughter, Hannah, happen to another young woman in Virginia," said Susan Graham to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

She and husband John Graham spoke before committee members Monday, January 29, as it considered Virginia Senate Bill 565. The bill would allow expanded DNA collection for people convicted of certain Class One misdemeanors; including assault, destruction of property, and obstruction of justice.

"DNA, if you'd like, is a 21st century fingerprint," John Graham said.

The parents were joined by Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding and Albemarle County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Tracci.

"DNA is a proven tool to solve crime and to exonerate the innocents," said Tracci.

The Graham's argued this bill would have put Hannah’s killer, Jesse Matthew, behind bars before the two would have ever met on the Downtown Mall in 2014.

"Hannah would have never had the misfortunate of encountering [Matthew] in Charlottesville. He wouldn't have abducted and murdered her, and she would be alive today," said Susan Graham.

Matthew pleaded guilty in March 2016 to first-degree murder and abduction with intent to defile in the Graham case, as well as Morgan Harrington’s death. Police found 18-year-old Graham’s body in a wooded area along Old Lynchburg Road in October 2014. Twenty-year-old Harrington’s remains were discovered at an Albemarle County farm in January 2010.

June 2015, Matthew entered Alford pleas - admitting there is enough evidence to convict him - to charges connected to a 2005 sexual assault in Fairfax County. As part of its case, the prosecution presented DNA evidence linking Matthew to the attack.

"Now, Jesse Matthew was convicted of criminal trespass in 2010. If his DNA had been tested after his conviction for that offense, he would have immediately been connected to those previous heinous crimes, and he would have been in jail in September 2014," said Susan Graham, referencing both the Fairfax County attack and Harrington’s murder.

Members of the American Civil Liberties Union raised concerns over proper collection and privacy, calling DNA the most private, personal information of someone's being.

Tracci told lawmakers, since the DNA databank's establishment in 1989, no cases of unlawful collection have been discovered.

The committee voted 13-2 Monday morning to advance the proposed bill to the Senate Finance Committee.

While SB-565 is far from final approval, its supporters say that's one step closer to saving more lives.


01/29/2018 Release from Albemarle County Sheriff's Office:

The parents of slain University of Virginia student Hannah Graham will appear before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to support SB 565 [sic], a bill to enhance DNA collection for additional Class One misdemeanors today.

Introduced by Committee Chairman Senator Mark Obenshain, SB 565 [sic] reflect the unanimous recommendation of the Virginia Crime Commission to expand DNA collection upon conviction of Class One misdemeanors.

These offenses include: assault and battery in violation of Virginia Code 18.2-57; assault and battery of a family member in violation of 18.2-57.2; larceny in violation of 18.2-96; concealment in violation of 18.2-103; destruction of property in violation of 18.2-137; and obstruction of justice in violation of 18.2-460. SB270 also requires collection of a DNA sample upon conviction for trespass in violation of Virginia Code 18.2-119.

The text of SB 565 [sic] can be found here: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?181+ful+SB565+pdf

Albemarle Sheriff Chip Harding, a leading proponent of DNA enhancement, and Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert N. Tracci will also appear before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee to urge passage of the legislation.

According to Albemarle Sheriff Harding, SB 565 [sic] would add profiles to the Virginia Databank, upon conviction, that research both in New York State and Virginia show have the highest association to future felony behavior of all misdemeanor offenses. Virginia research shows that 70 percent of Virginia’s first time felons were first convicted of misdemeanors. Five years after adding petty larceny in New York State 1,786 convictions had already matched to 78 homicides, 343 sexual assaults , 235 robberies and 764 burglaries.

Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert N. Tracci stated: “Senator Obsenshain’s bill reflects clear bipartisan recognition that DNA technology solves crime and exonerates the innocent. Enhancing the DNA databank for additional Class One criminal convictions will save lives. I urge the Senate to approve this legislation and for the House of Delegates to take up and pass companion legislation for the governor’s signature.” It has the bipartisan unanimous support of the Virginia Crime Commission who reviewed the research in depth last year.