CHARLOTTESVILLE — Today’s color is gray. Yes, the judge in the murder trial of University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V did rule that those who remember the young woman he stands accused of killing, Yeardley Love, had to leave the “Love” bracelets and other memorabilia at home. So they’ve found another way to fly the flag for her, showing up in pink for jury selection, turquoise for opening arguments and slate on Thursday.
The visual result is a particularly female form of dissent: In the front row, Yeardley’s mother, Sharon, never peels off her gray car coat, though it’s not chilly in the courtroom. Beside her, her older daughter Lexie, who celebrated her 28th birthday by testifying for the prosecution, is in gray silk and following every word uttered in court. Behind them, several rows packed with female cousins, friends and former UVA women’s lacrosse teammates in gray sweaters and scarves glare at the defendant en masse as he whispers to his female attorney.
The scene says a lot about Yeardley: that she was part of a close family, community and team. And it says a little about women abused by their partners: Not all, as we sometimes think, are isolated at home, without skills, confidence or a way out.
Working with women coming out of abusive relationships at a nonprofit in San Francisco’s Mission District right out of college, I saw women of all backgrounds and dispositions walk in the door. Many, yes, had been trapped for decades, conditioned to believe they couldn’t make it on their own. But one of my favorite clients was a plus-size, tough-talking truck driver and former prostitute who might not have struck you as vulnerable.
Again in Thursday’s Post we were reminded that such abuse happens in all socioeconomic groups; Washington socialite Viola Drath, whose shape-shifting, tale-telling husband has been implicated in her death, stayed with him in part, her family said, because she was afraid to be alone.
Love, 22 when she died, was never that. She was strong as a student and as an athlete, excelling at soccer, gymnastics and field hockey too, while growing up near Baltimore. And unlike those women who don’t know whom to call or whether they’ll be believed, Yeardley couldn’t have been more fully supported.
Her mother, who let out one small sob and pushed her glasses up her nose when asked on the witness stand how she’d learned of her girl’s death, testified that they spoke every single day. Yeardley lived with two roommates and seems to have traveled in a pack, constantly surrounded by friends and fellow members of the women’s lacrosse team.
Despite all that, however, she continued to see Huguely, on and off, even after a February 2010 party at which another guest, Mike Burns, testified that he found Huguely holding her down on his bed in a chokehold.
Though shaken, it wasn’t as though she kept that incident to herself; she went home to see her mother as a result. She spoke about it to friends, one of whom testified that George later told her he didn’t really remember it. He was aware something had happened, though, and was angry that she was going around talking about it.
Only days before she died, she showed at least one teammate a threatening e-mail she’d received from Huguely: “I should have killed you,” it said, after hearing she’d become involved with Burns, a lacrosse player from the University of North Carolina.
She’d gotten physical with Huguely at one point, too, apparently, hitting him with her purse after hearing that he’d been seeing another girl. And defense attorneys take every opportunity to paint Yeardley as an imperfect victim, asking her friends on the witness stand whether they remember her doing tequila shooters — “No, sir” — or whether she shared with her teammates her unlovely response to the “I should have killed you” e-mail, though it seems tame under the circumstances: “You are so [messed] up.”
Huguely is watchful in court, licking his lips, pulling on his tie, rubbing his hands over his chin. But the Landon grad is an excellent defendant, never smiling at the small jokes from the judge and attorneys that let others in the room release some of their tensions. He lets nothing at all register on his gaunt face. And friends say he looks nothing like his far more imposing former self, having lost at least 40 pounds since his arrest. “He was a big dude,’’ an acquaintance tells me. In court, he wears a little-boy haircut and an ill-fitting suit.
Prosecutors contend that he stomped up the steps to Yeardley’s apartment just before midnight on May 2, 2010, kicked in her bedroom door, beat her head against the wall and on his way out grabbed her laptop — with the evidence of his threatening e-mail on it.
Even in the version of events offered by his attorneys, he did drink too much, did write the threatening e-mail, did go to her apartment on the night she died, and they did fight — but he didn’t seriously hurt her.
Though the autopsy indicates she died of blunt trauma to the head, the defense theory is that she coincidentally expired that night, possibly of a previously undiscovered arrhythmia brought on by the ADD drug Adderall. Oh, and he swiped that computer on his way out on a whim, hoping that mischief would provoke her into calling him the next morning. Your witness.
For all those heartbroken young women in the courtroom wearing gray and leaning forward, I so wish there were a moral to the story, a lesson to take away from the tragedy.
Unfortunately, though, there isn’t always one of those — other than once violence starts, run and never look back, even if no exit is any guarantee.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.