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Slain UVa student’s parents call for expanded DNA testing

January 27, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The parents of a University of Virginia student who was abducted and slain in 2014 are asking state officials to consider expanding DNA collection from convicts, something they say could have saved their daughter.

John and Susan Graham, the parents of Hannah Graham, met with the leader of the Virginia House of Delegates on Friday. Speaker William Howell said the Grahams urged him to push for a state commission to study the possibility of increasing the number of misdemeanor crimes for which a convict’s DNA would be collected.

The Grahams, who have mostly maintained a low profile since their daughter’s death, also spoke with local media outlets. They said if Jesse Matthew, the man who pleaded guilty in Hannah Graham’s death, had been DNA tested for a misdemeanor trespassing conviction in 2010, he would have been prosecuted for other violent crimes he committed before he met Hannah Graham.

“Jesse Matthew should have been in jail in September 2014,” Susan Graham told WCAV. “Had he been in jail at that time, he wouldn’t have encountered Hannah on the Downtown Mall, he wouldn’t have abducted and murdered her, and she would be alive today.”

Matthew also pleaded guilty to killing 20-year-old Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared five years before Graham, and is serving a life sentence for a 2005 attempted murder and sexual assault in northern Virginia.

The Grahams, who couldn’t immediately be reached by The Associated Press, were pushing for a measure that would ask the Virginia State Crime Commission for a study on DNA collections. They met with Howell after a House committee earlier in the week failed to advance the measure.

Howell said he will to ask the commission to consider the study, but they already have a full plate and may not be able to take it up immediately, he said. The request also comes at a time when the state is facing a more than $1 billion budget shortfall.

The commission, which has four full-time staff members, has gotten far more requests than it can possibly review over the past few years, executive director Kristen Howard said. Howell’s request would be considered along with all others when the commission’s executive committee meets later this year to determine its priorities, she said.

In September 2014, Graham had dinner with friends and attended parties off campus before deciding to walk home alone. Surveillance video showed her crossing Charlottesville’s downtown pedestrian mall, then leaving a restaurant with Matthew. Her disappearance prompted a massive search.

Graham’s body was found five weeks later on abandoned property about 12 miles from the Charlottesville campus. Court documents said autopsies determined Graham likely died of suffocation or strangulation.

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