Second degree murder verdict returned in lacrosse death trial

Published 1:22 am Thursday, February 23, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Jurors found a former University of Virginia lacrosse player guilty of second-degree murder Wednesday in the drunken, jealousy-fueled slaying of his ex-girlfriend, rejecting a verdict of first-degree murder and a possible life sentence.

George Huguely V, 24, stood straight, flanked by his attorneys, as jurors returned the verdict after approximately nine hours of deliberations. He was convicted in the slaying of Yeardley Love, who was found bloodied, beaten and bruised in the bedroom of her Charlottesville apartment in the early morning hours of May 3, 2010.

Huguely displayed no outward emotion as the verdict was read, while some sobbing could be heard in the courtroom filled with family and friends of Love and Huguely.

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Jurors who returned the verdict immediately began deliberating a sentence, including a guilty finding on a charge of grand larceny. The second-degree murder conviction calls for a sentence of 5 to 40 years, while grand larceny’s sentencing range is 1 to 20 years. Formal sentencing will occur at a later date.

Prosecutors said Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Md., killed the U.Va. women’s lacrose player after a day of golf and binge drinking, incensed that she had had a relationship with a North Carolina lacrosse player. Love’s right eye was bashed in and she was hit with such power, her brain was bruised and she 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.

Prosecutor Dave 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 he only went to Love’s apartment to talk before the encounter quickly turned physical. He said she banged her head against the wall of her bedroom, and she only had a bloody nose when he left.

A prosecution witness testified Love smothered in her own blood-dampened pillow.

Love’s mother, Sharon, tearfully testified during the sentencing phase as Huguely cast his gaze down at the defense table. She described the death of her daughter as “unbearable.”

Love’s sister, Lexie, 28, described the absence of her kid sister.

“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.”

The defense did not present any witnesses at the sentencing hearing,

“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.

The jury heard from nearly 60 witnesses over nine days to determine what happened to Love.

The jury of seven men and five women 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.

Besides her facial injuries, 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 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 they lie 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 other and had a tempestuous relationship.

In a police interrogation video viewed by jurors, Huguely said he simply wanted to discuss their sputtering, two-year relationship. Huguely admitted he may have shaken her but insisted he didn’t grab her neck or punch her.

The prosecution painted a much more sinister scenario.

Huguely 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.”

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.

“Where’s the intent to kill?” he asked jurors. “Where’s the intent to kill?”

Huguely was found not guilty of four other charges, including breaking and entering and burglary. Jurors also could have returned lesser verdicts of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.


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