CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s been nearly two years since University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love was found dead facedown in a pool of blood on a pillow in her bed.
Beginning Monday in a courtroom here, the 12-member jury and three alternates who will hear the case against the 24-year-old Huguely will be chosen from among 160 potential jurors.
By police accounts, Huguely is a willful, premeditating killer who said in a videotaped statement that he kicked through Love’s bedroom door, shook her until her head banged against a wall and left her bleeding. On his way out, he took a computer that he tossed in a trash bin, say police, who recovered the laptop.
His attorneys counter that whatever happened during that final argument in Love’s off-campus apartment was an “accident with a tragic outcome.”
The fates of the two accomplished athletes on the verge of graduation from a prominent university have attracted and held national attention. Both were well-known in the tightknit lacrosse community.
“These were two obviously talented young people who had so much to live for,” said Teresa A. Sullivan, who became U-Va. president a few months after Love’s death. “I think that’s why it has caught people’s attention, in the same way that Greek tragedy captures the imagination.”
A street near the courthouse has been closed to traffic to make room for the satellite television trucks already in place on Sunday afternoon. More than 150 reporters registered for one of 30 in-courtroom media seats or for a spot in a room where the trial will appear on closed-circuit television.
Huguely chose not to appear in person for court proceedings that preceded his trial, which would make an appearance Monday his first in a courtroom since his May 3, 2010, arrest. He was indicted in April on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder in a robbery or attempted robbery, robbery of a residence, burglary, entering a house with intent to commit a felony and grand larceny.
A first-degree murder charge carries the possibility of life in prison, but it also allows jury members to consider lesser charges if they are convinced of a defendant’s guilt but are uncertain whether a killing was planned and done with malice.
“This is a very well- and strategically charged prosecution,” said Steven Benjamin, a Richmond defense lawyer who is president-elect of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Absent a dispute about whether Huguely went to the apartment, the charges “could potentially require the defense to answer a question that might have gone unanswered: Why did he go there?” If he didn’t go to assault Love, was it to take a computer? If not for the computer, then for what? “That’s a pretty good box,” Benjamin said.
Huguely’s attorneys did not respond to several requests for interviews.
In earlier court hearings, they indicated that they will raise doubts about the state medical examiner’s finding that Love, who was 22, died of blunt-force trauma to the head. They instead plan to suggest that Love could have died from an irregular heartbeat related to Adderall, a drug used to treat attention problems for which Love had a prescription.
Random scenes from Huguely and Love’s relationship have aired in court records and testimony as the trial approached: a series of arguments over new romantic interests, drinking bouts, exchanges of text messages and e-mails and an old-fashioned note in the weeks before Love’s death.
Those messages have yet to be disclosed, but there have been brief, tantalizing references from Warner D. “Dave” Chapman, the commonwealth’s attorney for Charlottesville, who is prosecuting the case, and Huguely’s defense team of Charlottesville attorneys, Francis McQ. Lawrence and Rhonda Quagliana.
Love, of Cockeysville, Md., played lacrosse for her school in Towson, a Baltimore suburb, before going to U-Va. Her death had a profound impact on the circle of athletes closest to her, marked in memorial services and the creation of a foundation in her name that raised at least $500,000 toward an athletic field at her prep school alma mater and ongoing service projects with young people.
But the response reached further.
Last year, Virginia lawmakers invoked Love by name as they expanded laws to make it easier for people who are dating but not living together to obtain court orders to protect themselves from an abusive partner. Authorities say the change led to a substantial increase in such orders.
At U-Va., administrators ratcheted up training for students, faculty and staff members on how to respond when they suspect someone might be in an abusive relationship or struggling with alcoholism or mental health issues.
The university also says it is aggressively enforcing a policy that requires students to notify school officials if they are arrested or charged with a crime other than minor traffic infractions.
It was only after Love’s death that U-Va. officials say they learned that Huguely had been convicted in 2009 in Lexington, Va., for public drunkenness and resisting arrest after an encounter during which a female police officer used a Taser to subdue him, according to court papers and interviews.
U-Va. students now must report criminal incidents on a computerized form at the start of each academic year and risk expulsion under the university’s honor code if they are caught lying. U-Va. also now requires athletes to inform their coaches of a new arrest within 24 hours of the event.
In fall 2010, the university received more than 600 reports from its more than 21,000 undergraduate and graduate students, said Allen Groves, the dean of students. The number fell to 350 last fall and included some duplicates from earlier years or reports considered frivolous. Of the roughly 100 relevant reports, most were first-time offenses involving alcohol or small amounts of marijuana, Groves said.
In addition to helping the university evaluate threats, Groves said the reports have given him a clearer picture of what help a student might need.
If the system had been in place and used by Huguely, “no one knows if that would have made a difference,” Groves said, “but I would have liked to have had that chance.”