George Huguely will not take stand in murder trial

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that George Huguely went to Yeardley Love’s apartment and kicked through her door on March 2, 2010. The date was May 2, 2010. This version has been corrected.

February 18, 2012

George Huguely V did not merely leave his sometime girlfriend Yeardley Love bleeding in her pillow, a prosecutor told jurors Saturday in his closing argument.

He left her unable to move, disabled from the damage that Huguely, who is more than 6 feet tall, had done to the 5-foot-4 Love in their final, violent argument in 2010, when he kicked through her bedroom door to reach her.

If she could have moved, Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman asked, why wouldn’t she “have crawled to get help”? If she could have moved, why wouldn’t she have stopped Huguely from taking her laptop as he left?

If she could have moved, why wouldn’t Love have lifted her head off that bloody pillow, where a roommate found her facedown early May 3, 2010, about two hours after Huguely had left?

After two weeks of the murder trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys circled back to their original portrayals of Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase. To Chapman, he remains a killer and a controlling, abusive and spurned lover. To the defense team, he was a “stupid drunk” and “boy athlete” who made terrible choices but took no lethal actions.

Huguely pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and five other charges before the jury was seated. He did not take the stand, and jurors heard from him only through statements he made to police on the morning of his arrest, which were videotaped and played in court.

Huguely and Love, 22, of Cockeysville, Md., had dated over two years at the University of Virginia, where they played lacrosse and were weeks from graduation when she died. The Virginia medical examiner ruled that she died of blunt force trauma to her head.

There is no dispute that Huguely came to Love’s off-campus apartment late the night of May 2, 2010. And no one disputes that he kicked through her door or that he and Love fought.

Jurors must decide what Huguely did during that fight and whether his actions amount to a crime. On Saturday evening, the judge sent them home and said deliberations would begin at 9 a.m. Wednesday, after the long holiday weekend and the Charlottesville court’s Tuesday grand jury session, which will take over the sole courtroom.

In his final appeal to jurors, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence urged them to reject the murder charge and consider a lesser crime. “George bears responsibility in her death. . . . He played a role in that, and he will take responsibility for it in a way you determine,” Lawrence said.

‘Where’s the intent?’

But, Lawrence asked, “where’s the intent to kill?” — a key element of first-degree premeditated murder, which can carry a sentence of life in prison. “He didn’t kill her. He left her there alive.”

Lawrence asked jurors to weigh involuntary manslaughter when he addressed them at the start of the trial. That charge covers an unintentional killing attributable to the defendant’s negligence and has a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Huguely also pleaded not guilty to murder in the commission of a robbery, burglary, breaking and entering and grand larceny.

Chapman, too, seemed to back away from the suggestion that Huguely intended to kill. He told jurors that in weighing Love’s death they should consider the charge of felony murder in the commission of a robbery — in this case the taking of Love’s laptop — or second-degree murder, which doesn’t require premeditation. Felony murder carries the possibility of a life sentence. Second-degree murder has a maximum sentence of 40 years.

During Huguely’s trial, both sides relied heavily on medical experts in the dispute over whether lethal force or an unfortunate and unexplained accident killed Love. But it was the testimony of friends and teammates, as well as Huguely’s statement to police, that left vivid, sad and chilling images.

Jurors heard about a George Huguely who was so disciplined in some ways that he was an athlete on a nationally ranked team and yet so unchecked that he was staggering drunk four times a week, a display of excess that shocked his teammates and prompted them to ponder an intervention.

Imagine the terror

Chapman built on those accounts Saturday, asking, as his own voice choked, to imagine the “terror” as Huguely’s right foot came through Love’s door and roused her from sleep.

Huguely listened attentively but without obvious emotion as Chapman recited lines from a note that Huguely sent to Love after an earlier 2010 episode. In that incident, a friend testified, he heard Love calling for help and opened Huguely’s bedroom door to find Huguely holding Love in a chokehold.

“I am scared to think I can get to that,” Huguely said in the note. “I’m horrified.  . . . Alcohol is ruining my life. I can assure you, I will never act the way I did.”

But in the days before Love’s death, he was drinking heavily again and sending explosive e-mails again about her having slept with another man, according to testimony. “I should have killed you,” he wrote in an e-mail shared with the jury.

That was “hyperbole,” Lawrence said.

But Chapman told the jury that the e-mail was another sign that Huguely was an abusive man. And reaching for Love’s broken bedroom door — a piece of evidence that remained in the courtroom Saturday — he asked:“What kind of conversation starter is this?”

Jenna Johnson writes about Maryland politics, including the General Assembly, the administration of Gov. Martin O'Malley and the 2014 election.
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