Feb. 23 (Bloomberg) -- George W. Huguely V, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, was found guilty of second degree murder in the beating death of his sometimes girlfriend, Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old UVA student and athlete.
A jury of seven men and five women in Charlottesville, Virginia, recommended a prison sentence of 25 years for the crime -- an intentional killing that, unlike first degree murder, isn’t premeditated.
Huguely, 24, crossed himself moments before the jurors issued the guilty verdict, which came yesterday after about nine hours of deliberations. His lawyer, Francis Lawrence, rubbed his client’s back after the verdict was read and the jurors left the courtroom.
“We are of course disappointed with this verdict,” Lawrence said after court. “George has the support of a loving family. He has resilience and courage. He is hopeful and spiritual.”
Love’s death has increased awareness of domestic violence on campus and drawn attention to the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination, or SaVE, Act, said Melissa Lucchesi, the director of program services of Security on Campus Inc., an advocacy group based in Wayne, Pennsylvania.
The SaVE act, introduced in Congress last year, would expand federal laws covering the prevention and reporting of sexual assault on campus to include other forms of violence, Lucchesi said. Her death makes clear why the law is necessary, Lucchesi said.
Huguely was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering and murder in the commission of a robbery, and acquitted on those counts. He was found guilty of grand larceny for stealing Love’s laptop computer after the beating. The jury recommended a one-year prison term for that offense.
The defendant told police investigators he entered Love’s apartment through the unlocked front door and then kicked open the door to her bedroom. He said the two had an altercation during which he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall,” according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors.
Badly Bruised Body
Love’s badly bruised body was discovered by a friend and teammate who went to her apartment at about 2 a.m. on May 3, 2010. She was in her bedroom, face down on a pillow in a pool of blood.
A hearing to schedule sentencing is set for April 16. Under Virginia law, Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire isn’t required to impose the punishment the jury recommended. As part of the punishment phase, jurors heard testimony from Love’s mother and her sister about the impact the murder had on their lives. Neither recommended a specific sentence.
“We dread looking back on the events of May 3, 2010, and pray for the strength to get through each day,” her mother, Sharon Donnelly Love, and sister, Lexi, said in a statement. “Time has not made us miss Yeardley any less. In fact, quite the opposite. It is truly devastating to wake up each day and realize that she is no longer here.”
Rhonda Quagliana, one of Huguely’s lawyers, told jurors that her client was a “young person with familiar shortcomings” and urged them to vote their conscience.
“No person is the sum of the worst decisions they’ve ever made,” she said. “His life was filled with sports, sex and alcohol and he lacked the maturity, insight and will.”
Hogshire told jurors that Huguely won’t be eligible for parole and they should recommend “a punishment that you feel is just.”
During 10 days of trial, state prosecutors portrayed Huguely as a violent man who intentionally murdered Love.
Commonwealth Attorney Warner D. Chapman, in closing arguments on Feb. 18, showed the jury photographs of Love’s injuries. He described “20 to 25 distinct contusions” including a swollen, shut eye, and lacerations in Love’s mouth and under her chin.
"Reflection of Malice'
Her bedroom door sat along the courtroom wall, a large hole by the doorknob where Huguely told police he had kicked it in the night of her death.
“These injuries are a reflection of malice,” Chapman said, referring to the photos during his closing argument. “If you’ve got your arm wrapped around her head and her face grinding into the ground, that’s malice.”
Jurors asked the judge for the video of Huguely’s interview with police within minutes after receiving the case for deliberation.
The jury also asked to see a handwritten letter Huguely sent Love in February 2010 apologizing for putting her in a choke hold. In the letter, found by police with Love’s belongings, Huguely wrote, “Alcohol is ruining my life. I’m scared to know that I can get drunk to the point where I can’t control how I act.”
Huguely’s lawyer read the letter to jurors while asking them to return a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder.
Before closing arguments began, Huguely’s defense was dealt a setback when the judge limited key expert-testimony on how the victim died because defense attorneys had improper contact with expert witnesses. Huguely didn’t testify.
“George had no intent to commit a crime,” Lawrence said. “It was immature compulsiveness. When he was drunk, he was aggressively evil.”
Lawrence said Huguely went to Love’s apartment the night she died to talk with her, not to beat her and steal her computer. He also said that Love first got aggressive with Huguely.
Chapman, in his rebuttal, dragged over Love’s bedroom door so jurors could get a closer look.
“If you think he went over there to have a conversation,” the prosecutor said, “what kind of conversation starter is that?”
The trial has put a national spotlight on the university town of roughly 43,400 people located about 115 miles southwest of Washington. The courthouse area of downtown has been besieged by media, with more than 200 reporters and producers requesting credentials, according to Ric Barrick, director of communications for the city.
“This puts blight on the University of Virginia because both were students,” Robert Blake, a 68-year-old retired land surveyor and Charlottesville resident, said in an interview at the Downtown Mall after the case went to the jury.
Drinking to Excess
Blake said that drinking -- and drinking to excess -- has been an unfortunate tradition at the university dating back decades.
Mikolai East, 17, of Charlottesville, who is taking classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College as he finishes Murray High School, said he fears UVA will get a reputation as a school to avoid.
The defense attempted to show that Huguely and Love had a tempestuous relationship. One witness said that Love hit Huguely with her purse when she found her and friend at his apartment, demanding to know whether he’d been sending them text messages.
Huguely’s aunt, Alina Massaro, narrated video taken from a surveillance camera at a Charlottesville restaurant two days before the alleged murder. Huguely, who Massaro referred to as Georgie, is seen hugging his 17-and 18-year-old cousins and holding hands with Love.
In his closing argument, Chapman, the commonwealth attorney, portrayed the death as the result of a deliberate act.
“This is not an accident case,” he said. “This is the case of a woman who went to bed in what should be one of the safest and secure places -- her home. And then he began to assault her,” the prosecutor said. “He left her for dead.”
The case is Commonwealth of Virginia v. Huguely, 11-00102, Virginia Circuit Court (Charlottesville).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at firstname.lastname@example.org