Huguely trial could come down to details on videotape

For the jury that has spent two weeks listening to dozens of witnesses, the George Huguely V murder trial could come down to the tale of the tape.

The prosecution and defense urged the jurors who will decide Huguely’s fate to replay, study and dissect his videotaped statement to police to understand why he kicked through Yeardley Love’s bedroom door and what he did when he got to the other side.

Jurors on Wednesday will begin the work of deciding whether Huguely murdered Love in 2010 or whether his actions amount to a lesser crime — or none at all.

Depending on what they find, Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

To reach their decision, jurors will have to sort through some finer points of Virginia law as they review the testimony of 56 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits. But they also were instructed to apply their common sense as they decide what happened in the 10 minutes or so that Huguely said he was inside Love’s apartment.

The portrayals of Huguely from either side of the courtroom couldn’t be more different, yet each believes its view is borne out by the former University of Virginia lacrosse player’s words and swings of emotions as he spoke to detectives May 3, 2010, just hours after Love was found dead.

The Huguely presented by prosecutors is a controlling, threatening and abusive boyfriend who callously left Love bleeding when he walked out on her after an assault.

To the defense team, Huguely is a cad, not a calculating killer, “a stupid drunk” but not an aggressive one, and a “boy athlete” who made one too many bad decisions that led to a “tragedy” but not a murder.

Seven men and seven women heard the evidence, and two will be dismissed as alternates, leaving a dozen who will deliberate to reach a verdict.

The jurors are not told what sentence each charge carries as they weigh whether Huguely caused the death of his sometime girlfriend. Like Huguely, Love, 22, of Cockeysville, Md. was a lacrosse player and U-Va. senior.

Even with the elimination of alternates, the jury will retain at least one member with hands-on experience in medicine or scientific research to help sort the complex testimony from experts who came to different conclusions about how Love died.

The Virginia medical examiner’s office ruled that she suffered blunt force trauma to the head; a neuropathologist who testified for the defense said Love probably suffocated after she was thrown into her pillow, which was wet with blood.

Among the 14 jurors still in play, there is a pediatrician with 16 years of experience, including caring for three patients with brain injuries; a U-Va. microbiologist; and a research scientist at the university. The others include a man whose brother struggled with alcohol. Jurors are not named in court, but snippets of information about them surfaced during jury selection.

The jurors are allowed to take notes, and most have been — some scribbling intently during the exhaustive medical testimony, others paying heightened attention to the heated and profane e-mails Huguely and Love exchanged and the testimony of witnesses who said they had “hooked up” with Huguely or Love in trysts that enflamed the couple’s battles.

The jurors sat rapt as they listened to Huguely’s statement when it was aired in court, and a few wiped their eyes. As crime scene photos of Love’s body were being shown, a juror who appeared to be in his late 50s asked for a break.

Huguely has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery, burglary, entering a house with intent to commit a felony and grand larceny. If the jury finds Huguely guilty, it will recommend a sentence that Circuit Court Judge Edward L. Hogshire can accept or lower, but not increase.

Jurors will consider a range of charges that carry dramatically different punishments.

Prosecutors say it was first-degree, premeditated murder, a crime that carries the possibility of life in prison. Under the law, that intent to kill can be formed in an instant.

Defense attorneys acknowledge that Huguely played “a role” in Love’s death but say he left her alive and had only gone to talk to her. At the most, they told the jurors, they should consider the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a 10-year maximum.

But the jurors also will weigh felony murder — an unintentional killing during the commission of a separate felony — which also carries a possible life sentence. Prosecutors have focused on this charge, pointing out Huguely’s admission that as he left Love’s room, he took her laptop with him.

Second-degree murder does not require an intent to kill and is an option if the jury believes Huguely was so drunk he could not have been deliberate and calculating. A guilty verdict of involuntary manslaughter would mean the jury concluded that Huguely showed a “reckless disregard” for human life.

The jury heard from friends of the couple who described their volatile relationship, including a February 2010 incident in which a player from another school testified that he heard Love yell for help and found Huguely pinning her in a chokehold. They also read an e-mail Huguely sent to Love three days before her death after finding out she had slept with another man. In the e-mail, Huguely said he thought he and Love had a deal: She would stay with him if he stopped drinking so much.

After learning of the liaison, he e-mailed: “I should have killed you.”

Jurors also saw video of Love and Huguely, recorded at a restaurant a little more than 24 hours before her death, that showed apparent affection, with her arm around him at one point.

But in the end, it was the taped police statement that both sides invoked as their parting image.

In that video, Huguely says Love hit her head against the wall as she pleaded with him to go away. He admits his attempt to talk spiraled into shaking Love “a little” and grabbing her neck before they “wrestled to the ground.” She got up and looked him in the eyes before he “tossed” her on her bed, leaving her bleeding and “flopping, like a fish out of water.”

But he left her alive, he insisted.

When a detective tells him Love is dead, Huguely’s cries cut through the courtroom.

“She’s not dead!” “There’s no way she’s dead!” he cries over and over.

Francis McQ. Lawrence, one of Huguely’s attorneys, said those cries confirm that Huguely didn’t know Love was dead and that if he didn’t know, then he hadn’t planned it.

“Look at that statement just as many times as you want to. . . . Roll it forward, roll it backward,” Lawrence told jurors Saturday.

Watch it “repeatedly,” urged Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman, ticking off by minutes and seconds the sections he said capture a litany of intentional harm “directed at one woman.”

Read more from The Washington Post:

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Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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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