Ex-UVA Lacrosse Player Faces 26 Years in Co-ed’s Murder

George W. Huguely V, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, faces as long as 26 years in prison when he’s sentenced today for the beating death of his sometimes girlfriend, Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old UVA student and athlete.

Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire in Charlottesville, Virginia, will decide whether to impose the punishment sought by the jury that found Huguely guilty of second-degree murder on Feb. 22. Jurors recommended the 24-year-old should receive 25 years for the crime, an intentional killing that, unlike first degree murder, isn’t premeditated. They also said Huguely should spend a year in prison for stealing Love’s computer.

“Public sentiment has a fair amount of influence,” William Cummings, a criminal defense lawyer and the former U.S. Attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, said in a phone interview. “This was a case with a lot of emotion.”

Love’s death raised awareness of domestic violence on college campuses and led to a push for federal and state laws expanding reporting requirements and information-sharing between law enforcement agencies, said Alison Kiss, executive director of the Clery Center for Security on Campus, an advocacy group.

‘Raise Awareness’

“We’ve seen that this can really happen to anyone and we just need to raise awareness and educate on what dating violence looks like and that it’s something that can escalate from yelling or controlling behavior to violent and dangerous behavior,” Kiss said in a phone interview from the group’s office in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

A Virginia law, which took effect July 1, mandates increased cooperation between campus police and state and local law enforcement. Virginia’s Department of Health and Virginia Tech are sponsoring a conference on campus sexual violence on Sept. 28.

Love’s family has sued the state and university officials seeking more than $29 million in damages, alleging they failed to properly handle a 2009 incident where Huguely attacked a lacrosse teammate while drunk. Her family has also filed a lawsuit against Huguely.

Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering and murder in the commission of a robbery, and acquitted on those counts. In addition to the murder charge, he was found guilty of grand larceny for walking off with Love’s computer after beating her in her bedroom at a Charlottesville apartment.

Good Conduct

While Virginia law doesn’t allow for parole, Huguely could cut his sentence by 15 percent if he meets good conduct standards while behind bars, according to a state Department of Corrections document. That means if Huguely receives the jury-recommended sentence, he might be released in about 22 years.

Before suggesting punishment, jurors heard testimony from Love’s mother and her sister about the impact of the murder on their lives. Neither asked for a specific sentence.

During today’s sentencing, Hogshire may hear statements from friends and family of Huguely and Love, and Huguely himself could speak.

Under Virginia law, the judge may impose a shorter sentence than the jury recommends, though not a longer one.

Huguely’s lawyers, in a filing yesterday, asked Hogshire to sentence their client to no more than 14 years, which they said is the low end of Virginia’s sentencing guidelines. They argue there was evidence at trial showing that Love’s death was the result of negligence rather than malice.

Sentencing Precedent

“On the conviction for second-degree murder, this court has recently imposed a 15-year sentence in a case in which the defendant repeatedly stabbed his wife to death and fled the scene,” according to the filing.

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. Love, of Cockeysville, Maryland, was in her bedroom, face down on a pillow in a pool of blood.

Huguely 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.

At trial, state prosecutors portrayed Huguely as a violent man who intentionally murdered Love.

‘Distinct Contusions’

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.

During deliberations, jurors 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, Francis Lawrence, read the letter to jurors while asking them to return a verdict of manslaughter rather than murder.

“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 only to talk with her. He also said that Love first got aggressive with Huguely.

Lawrence didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment on the sentencing.

Judge’s ‘Sympathy’

“The judge isn’t going to have a whole lot of sympathy given the guy’s attempt to justify what he did because of drinking,” Cummings said.

The trial 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 was besieged by media for the trial, with more than 200 reporters and producers requesting credentials.

The case is Commonwealth of Virginia v. Huguely, 11-00102, Virginia Circuit Court (Charlottesville).

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