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Defense begins in Huguely’s trial for murder

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A judge has refused to reduce or dismiss charges in the first-degree murder trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of killing his girlfriend.

Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire acted Wednesday on a defense motion in the trial of George Huguely V. The 24-year-old from Montgomery County is accused in the May 3, 2010, death of Yeardley Love, of Cockeysville.

The defense moved for judgment Wednesday after prosecutor Dave Chapman rested. Chapman had called about 50 witnesses, including medical experts who said Love died a result of blunt force trauma that bruised and wrenched her brain.

With the motion denied, the defense began its presentation with a medical expert who said that, in his professional opinion, Love was asphyxiated from lying face down in a damp, bloody pillow.

“That could do it,” Dr. Jan E. Leestma said of his theory.

The testimony did not state how Love came to be in that position.

The defense claims Love’s death was accidental, possibly the result of drinking and a prescription drug she took for attention-deficit disorder. A coroner has said those substances were in her body but not in potentially lethal doses.

Earlier, another defense witness testified that Love’s blood alcohol level was higher than recorded in an autopsy.

Huguely has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge and five other counts. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.

Wednesday’s concluding prosecution testimony was intended to draw jurors to the final hours leading to Love’s death and Huguely’s actions. Most of the witnesses were former lacrosse players, many of whom knew Love as well as Huguely.

One former teammate, Ken Clausen, testified that Huguely lied about visiting friends hours before Love’s battered body was found and had a “blank stare” on his face.

The day before Love’s body was found, Huguely was sloppy drunk during an end-of-the lacrosse season father-son golf tournament and dinner, his teammates said, describing Huguely’s slurred speech and public urination. Later that night, Clausen and other friends went to Huguely’s apartment for beers and to watch TV.

About 20 minutes before midnight, they decided to go to a nearby store to pick up some more beer while Huguely remained in the apartment, the teammates said. They came back with the beer 15 or 20 minutes later, and Huguely was not in the apartment but soon returned.

Huguely told his friends he had gone to visit two other teammates in his apartment building. One of the teammates, however, had stayed in his own apartment and was not in Huguely’s building.

“We thought that was strange,” said Clausen, who went to retrieve the beers with another teammate, Kevin Carroll, who was Huguely’s roommate. “What he said wasn’t adding up. There was no reason to lie.”

Asked by prosecutor Dave Chapman about Huguely’s demeanor, Clausen said, “He had this blank stare on his face.”

Clausen said he repeatedly asked Huguely what was bothering him. “I got no response,” he said.

Clausen said he didn’t see any injuries on Huguely, who police said had bruised knuckles the morning they interrogated him about Love’s death.

But Clausen said of Huguely’s mood after he returned from the beer run, “There was no doubt in my mind there was a change in his demeanor.”

Carroll testified, though, that he detected no difference in Huguely’s mood.

“I just thought he was really, really drunk,” Carroll said.