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Suspect faces capital murder charge in Hannah Graham case

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Jesse Matthew Jr.

By Catherine E. Shoichet

(CNN – May 5, 2015) — The man accused of abducting and killing a University of Virginia student could end up paying for her death with his life.

Jesse Matthew Jr. now faces a capital murder charge in the case of Hannah Graham, who went missing last year after a night out with friends.

In February, prosecutors said Matthew would be charged with first-degree murder. On Tuesday, he was served with a new indictment charging him with capital murder, meaning that Matthew could face the death penalty if convicted.

Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Denise Lunsford said new forensic evidence obtained in late February made her go to a grand jury again and seek an increased charge.

Hannah Graham

Hannah Graham

She declined to reveal details about the evidence, but said she plans to seek the death penalty if the case goes to trial.

“These are never easy decisions,” Lunsford told reporters Tuesday. “If I didn’t believe that this case were worthy of a capital charge, if I didn’t believe that Mr. Matthew were someone that would be appropriate for this ultimate penalty, then we wouldn’t be standing here having this conversation.”

Graham, 18, went missing before dawn on September 13 after she was last spotted on surveillance video in Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall area.

In October, authorities found her skull and bones on abandoned property 8 miles from where the college sophomore was last seen.

Surveillance video and other accounts led authorities to identify Matthew as a suspect in Graham’s disappearance.

Matthew, a 33-year-old former cab driver, was taken into custody on September 24 on a beach in Galveston County, Texas, about 1,300 miles away from where Graham was last seen.

CNN’s Dave Alsup and Rashard Rose contributed to this report.