CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In a trial that revealed the lives of elite athletes at a top-notch school, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player faces 26 years in prison for the beating death of his former girlfriend amid a swirl of betrayal, distrust, anger and a culture of drinking.
The prosecutor who meticulously and methodically constructed the case against George Huguely V in the May 3, 2010, beating death of Yeardley Love spoke glumly late Wednesday about a trial that put on display a much-diminished athlete and the horrific injuries he inflicted upon the young woman he professed to love. It played out before two families shattered by the experience.
“There’s nothing to make good the terrible tragedy done to the Love family,” prosecutor Dave Chapman said under an umbrella in a drenching rain outside the courthouse. “We hope they feel some solace.”
Jurors deliberated about nine hours before returning a verdict on the murder count, then recommended that Huguely serve 25 years. The maximum prison term for second-degree murder is 40 years.
The 24-year-old defendant from Chevy Chase could have received a life term if convicted of first-degree murder. He also was found guilty of grand larceny, with the jury recommending one year in prison.
Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire set an April court date for sentencing matters before formal sentencing, expected to be held in summer. He is not bound by the jury’s recommendations, but Virginia judges typically heed jurors’ wishes.
Huguely was found not guilty of four other charges, including breaking and entering and burglary. Jurors could have returned lesser verdicts of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.
Huguely, pale and 30 or more pounds lighter from his playing days on U.Va.’s nationally recognized lacrosse team, cast his gaze downward during sentencing as Love’s mother and sister told jurors of their lives since Love’s death.
‘I’ll just burst into tears’
Sharon Love tearfully testified that her daughter’s death was an “unbearable” tug on her life. “Every year that goes by I’d like to know what she’d be doing now,” she said.
Love’s sister, Lexie, 28, described painful reminders of her kid sister’s absence.
“A song will come on the radio and I’ll just burst out in tears,” she said, sobbing. Her sister’s death, she said, “left a large hole and nothing will fill it.”
In a statement, the Love family said the passing of time has not eased the sorrow of her loss.
“Our hearts burst with pride when we think of Yeardley’s accomplishments but our hearts melt when we remember her kindness and grace,” the Loves said.
The defense did not present any witnesses at the sentencing hearing. Members of the Huguely family declined to speak as they left the courthouse.
“No person is the sum of the worst decision he ever made,” one of Huguely’s defense attorneys, Rhonda Quagliana, told jurors before they began deliberating his punishment.
After comforting Huguely inside the courthouse, co-defense counsel Francis McQ. Lawrence said he was disappointed by the jury’s verdict but said he was proud to represent Huguely “in his fight for fairness over the last couple years.”
“He has the support of his loving family,” Lawrence said, declining questions. “He’s displayed amazing resilience and courage.”
He added. “I think those in the courthouse saw his remorse during various times during the trial.”
60 witnesses over nine days
The verdict was returned to a somber courtroom. Huguely stood ramrod straight in an ill-fitting jacket, flanked by his attorneys, and appeared stoic as the verdict was read. Some sobs could be heard among the Love and Huguely families.
The jury of seven men and five women considered testimony from nearly 60 witnesses over nine days.
They had to decide whether Huguely battered Love to death in a jealous outburst or if his intent to talk with her spiraled out of control and she died accidentally. They also suggested her own drinking and a prescription drug used for attention deficit disorder could have contributed to her death.
Huguely killed Love, a U.Va. women’s lacrosse player from suburban Baltimore, after a day of golf and binge drinking, incensed that she had had a relationship with a North Carolina lacrosse player, the prosecution said. Love’s right eye was bashed in and she was hit with such power that her brain was bruised. She also had wrenching head injury that caused bleeding at the base of her brain stem.
A coroner concluded she died of blunt force trauma. Defense and prosecution experts offered different medical opinions on the lethal consequences of her injuries.
Chapman, who described the night Love was killed as a scene from a horror show, said Huguely kicked a hole in Love’s door to get in her bedroom and left his on-again, off-again girlfriend to die.
Huguely’s attorneys said she banged her head against the wall of her bedroom. Huguely claimed she only had a bloody nose when he left.
A defense witness testified Love, then 22, smothered in her own blood-dampened pillow.
Jurors heard testimony from lacrosse players who told of Huguely’s escalating drinking problem and public spats between the two. The incidents included Huguely putting Love in a chokehold while on his bed, and one in which Love accused him of flirting with two high school girls.
Friends and fellow players said the two were unfaithful to each other and had a fiery relationship.
In a police interrogation video viewed by jurors, Huguely acknowledged he may have shaken her but insisted he didn’t grab her neck or punch her.
The prosecution said Huguely went to Love’s apartment less than one week after he sent her a threatening email about her relationship with a North Carolina lacrosse player.
In the email, Huguely wrote that when he found out about the relationship, “I should have killed you.”
In his closing arguments that left some shaking their heads, Lawrence described Huguely as a hulking, hard-drinking jock but no killer. He acknowledged Huguely had an unintended, accidental role in Love’s death, arguing for a finding of involuntary manslaughter and a 10-year prison term.
He suggested their behavior was the norm in the “lacrosse ghetto” at U.Va.
Lasting legacy in Virginia
Love’s death will have a lasting effect in Virginia.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that expanded criteria under which people can seek protective orders. The measure allows people in dating relationships or those who face threatening co-workers to more easily obtain such an order.
“Yeardley Love’s death resulted in a great awakening for many individuals in Virginia and across the country about the danger that exists in violent dating relationships,” Kristi VanAudenhove of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance said in a statement.
“It has also sparked conversations at colleges and universities about how to improve policies and services for students experiencing sexual and domestic violence,” she said.
U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan extended her “sympathy and compassion” to the Huguely and Love families.
“Yeardley’s family, teammates, sorority sisters and friends — indeed all of us at the University — continue to feel the loss of this promising young woman,” Sullivan said in a statement.