Recusal Motion Tossed |in Virginia Murder Case

     CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CN) – The trial judge in the case of the kidnapping and murder of a University of Virginia sophomore last year will not recuse herself, despite defense concerns about her impartiality.
     Doug Ramseur, attorney for accused murderer Jesse Leroy Matthew Jr., filed the motion asking Albemarle County Circuit Judge Cheryl Higgins to voluntarily step aside on Thursday, the same day his client made his first court appearance since his indictment.
     In the motion, Ramseur argued that turning the case over to another judge would allow Higgins to avoid the appearance of impropriety resulting from her ruling on the validity of several search warrants she authorized.
     “Your Honor’s signatures are on more [warrants and search orders] than any others,” Ramseur said, lifting with both hands a massive three-ring binder filled with evidence.
     “Whether or not these … were appropriately issued and handled … Are you a reviewing authority of your own mistakes?” Ramseur asked.
     Prosecutor Denise Lunsford argued that only five warrants authorized by Higgins related directly to Matthew, while others concern the victim’s Facebook and cell phone records, several of which were returns.
     “There is no standing for Mr. Matthew to complain about search warrants,” Lunsford insisted.
     Ramsuer also expressed concern that the judge’s daughter is a second-year student at the university, and had attended a campus vigil after the victim, Hannah Graham, had disappeared.
     Higgins denied having any bias in regard to the case, noting that her daughter didn’t know Graham, and that at the time of the vigil, no one knew Graham had been killed.
     She also insisted she could be fair in ruling on the search warrants, but said she would turn that specific aspect of the case over to another a judge as a precaution.
     Higgins then went on to set a July 5, 2016 trial date for the case, allotting four weeks for the proceedings.
     Heather Graham vanished last September after a night out with friends. Her remains were found in a rural area of Albemarle County a month later.
     Matthew was convicted earlier this month of attempted capital murder, adduction and sexual assault in Fairfax County, Va. in an unrelated 2005 case. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

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