Published February 22, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A jury convicted a former University of Virginia lacrosse player Wednesday of second-degree murder of his ex-girlfriend in a drunken, jealous rage, rejecting a first-degree murder verdict and a possible life sentence.
Instead, jurors recommended a 25-year prison term for George Huguely V in the May 2010 slaying of Yeardley Love. They added one more year for a grand larceny conviction.
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.
Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, Md., bowed his head during sentencing. Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire set an April court date on sentencing matters before a formal sentencing is expected to be held in summer. He is not bound by the jury's recommendations, but Virginia judges typically heed jurors' wishes.
Jurors deliberated for about nine hours before returning their verdict to a somber courtroom. Huguely stood erect, flanked by his attorneys, and appeared stoic as the verdict was read. Some sobs could be heard in the court.
Prosecutors said Huguely killed the U.Va. women's lacrosse 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 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.
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, a 22-year-old from suburban Baltimore, 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."
"Every year that goes by I'd like to know what she'd be doing now," Sharon Love said.
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."
In a statement, the Love family said the passing of time has not eased the pain of their loss.
"Our hearts burst with ride when we think of Yeardley's accomplishments but our hearts melt when we remember her kindness and grace," the statement from Sharon and Lexie Love said.
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 of seven men and five women heard from nearly 60 witnesses over nine days to determine what happened to Love.
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.
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 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 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?"
Love's death had a statewide impact, leading to legislation that made it easier for possible abuse victims to get a restraining order in Virginia.
Last year, the state's General Assembly passed a law that expands 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.