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Jury deliberations under way in murder case of former U.Va. lacrosse player

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Jurors in the murder trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player deliberated for hours Wednesday whether he battered his ex-girlfriend to death in a drunken, jealous rage or if his intent to talk with her spiraled out of control, leaving her bleeding and dying in her bedroom.

The jury has been presented those two versions of what happened on the night of May 2, 2010, hearing from nearly 60 witnesses over nine days.

George Huguely V of Chevy Chase, Md., could face life in prison if convicted of murder in the death of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, whose body was found in the early hours of May 3, 2010. Jurors can also consider lesser charges, including manslaughter and second-degree murder.

Love, a lacrosse player on the women’s team, was found face down on her pillow. Her right eye was swollen and bruised, she had marks on her chest that suggested she was grabbed and had injuries around her jaw and inside her mouth and neck. Jurors heard several potentially lethal consequences of such injuries. A coroner concluded the young woman from suburban Baltimore died of blunt force trauma.

Less than 90 minutes into its deliberations, the jury sought clarification on the word “reason.” Circuit Judge Edward L. Hogshire advised jurors common usage would apply. At the 6-hour mark, jurors asked another question on what they viewed as contradictory language in their charge, and were seeking a letter Huguely wrote to Love in which he said “alcohol is ruining my life.”

The final 15 minutes the two seniors spent together likely will be critical to the jury’s deliberations.

In a police interrogation video viewed by jurors, Huguely said he went to Love’s apartment to talk about their sputtering, two-year relationship and she “freaked out” when he broke into her room. Their encounter quickly turned physical, with Huguely admitting he may have shaken her but insisting he didn’t grab her neck or punch her. He also claimed she repeatedly banged her head on the bedroom wall.

A medical expert for the defense testified that Love likely smothered, her face buried in her own blood-dampened pillow. Huguely’s defense team has also suggested Love’s death was the result of drinking and a prescription drug she took for attention-deficit disorder. A coroner said both substances were in her body but not in potentially lethal doses.

The prosecution paints a much more sinister scenario.

Huguely, now 24, went to her 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.”

Prosecutor Dave Chapman portrayed Huguely as intent on controlling Love. He came to her apartment to physically impose his will, kicking a hole in her bedroom door and reaching in and unlocking the door, the prosecutor said.

“That’s the beginning of terror, ladies and gentlemen,” said Chapman, who seemed to sob as he began closing arguments Saturday. “It’s just unimaginable what that woman went through and you know it.”

Then 210 pounds and nearly a foot taller than Love, Huguely battered her face and likely held her down by her neck and covered her mouth, the prosecutor said.

Prosecution medical experts said her death, which came about two hours after Huguely left, could have been caused by a loss of blood flow from the carotid artery. They also testified about bruising on her brain — the result of her brain striking the interior of her skull — and blood pooling near her brain stem. The latter was likely caused by a wrenching or torqueing of the head, experts testified.

Chapman said Huguely left Love’s apartment with her laptop computer, tossing it in a trash bin in an apparent attempt to hide incriminating emails.

The alleged computer theft is critical in the prosecution’s case. Chapman is seeking a conviction on felony murder, saying Love was fatally injured during a robbery.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence described Huguely as 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.

Huguely, a member of a well-to-do Washington family, was a “boy athlete” and he and Love lived in what Lawrence described as a “lacrosse ghetto” where drinking, sexually charged relationships and emotional outbursts were the norm among elite athletes.

Huguely now bears little resemblance to the stocky 6-foot, Division I athlete of nearly two years ago. He is about 30-40 pounds lighter and pasty from his time in jail awaiting trial. He did not testify during the trial.

Jurors have asked to view a police interrogation video recorded hours after Love’s death in which he reacted incredulously when told Love was dead.

Besides the first-degree murder count, Huguely is charged with two counts of felony breaking and entering, theft and murder in the commission of a robbery.

If jurors return guilty verdicts, the trial will shift almost immediately to the sentencing phase. It will include opening statements, witnesses and closing arguments. Huguely’s father is expected to testify at the sentencing phase.

The jury will then deliberate the sentence. Formal sentencing on the jury’s recommendations will occur later.