Defense expert in George Huguely trial says Yeardley Love probably smothered in her pillow

February 15, 2012

Yeardley Love probably smothered in her own pillow, after “she was thrown facedown” into it, according to an expert called by the defense team for George Huguely V.

Jan Leestma, a neuropathologist from Chicago, testified late Wednesday that he saw no sign of the serious brain injury that medical witnesses for prosecutors contend killed Love. Rather, he said, Love suffocated on a bloody pillow. Breathing into a wet surface, “that could do it,” Leestma said.

Leestma didn’t address how Love might have been thrown there or whether he thought that her intoxication level — which was 0.14 — had a role in her death.

Love’s body was found by her roommate shortly before 2:30 a.m. May 3, 2010, and Huguely, of Chevy Chase, was arrested that day. He has pleaded not guilty to murder and five other charges in the death of Love, his sometime girlfriend, who like Huguely was a senior at the University of Virginia and a lacrosse player.

Leestma was among the first witnesses to testify for the defense, which has argued that Love’s death was a tragic accident.

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutors admitted two final pieces of evidence — a photo of Love and the tag from her body bag — before they rested their case. They contend that an angry Huguely shook Love until her head banged against a wall and then left her bleeding. The right side of Love’s face was swollen, and she had an abrasion on her chin, according to testimony.

Leestma contradicted the prosecution’s medical experts. The Virginia medical examiner’s office ruled that Love died of blunt force trauma, which it attributed to whipsawing of her head or sharp torque that left her brain bruised and swollen.

Leestma said he did not see that. “I could not conclude it is trauma,” he said. Love’s brain was swollen, which was “abnormal,” he said, but the swelling could have been caused by the cutoff of air as she lay on her pillow. He said bruising in her brain could be explained by a rush of blood to her head during efforts to resuscitate her.

Huguely told police that he and Love had fought before he tossed her bleeding back into her bed and left, without calling for medical help.

Jurors on Wednesday also heard from five former U-Va. lacrosse players who were friends of Huguely’s. They said Huguely grew increasingly drunk on May 2, 2010, progressing from missing shots during a morning golf outing to urinating in public outside a restaurant.

Huguely had a “blank stare” when he arrived at home about midnight, Ken Clausen, a fellow lacrosse player, testified. “There was a change in his demeanor,” Clausen said. “I asked him three times what was wrong.”

Huguely never answered, Clausen told jurors, and he stared at the TV screen.

Clausen said that about 11:40 p.m., he and Kevin Carroll, Huguely’s then-roommate, went on a beer run and that Huguely walked in after they returned.

Huguely told them that he had been downstairs with two other teammates in another apartment and that one of them was drunk, Clausen said. Clausen said he “thought that was kind of strange” because he knew that player was working on a paper. Carroll said he called the second player, who told him he was at his home, not downstairs.

“There was no reason to lie about something like that,” Clausen said.

Francis McQ. Lawrence, one of Huguely’s attorneys, asked players whether Huguely looked “disheveled” when they saw him around midnight.

He “was not disheveled?” Lawrence asked Clausen. “No,” Clausen said.

“Other than being intoxicated, there was nothing unusual about him?” Lawrence asked William “Mikey” Thompson. “No,” Thompson said.

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