CHARLOTTESVILLE — Drunken rages, romantic betrayals and teary reconciliations defined the relationship between University of Virginia students Yeardley Love and George Huguely V in their final months together, prosecutors said, deteriorating just days before her death in an e-mail from Huguely that said in part: “I should have killed you.”
Prosecutors, publicly revealing that e-mail for the first time Wednesday, said in their opening statement that Huguely was angry and intent on violence when he went to Love’s apartment the night of May 2, 2010. But while defense attorneys admit the on-and-off couple fought, they said a drunk Huguely wanted only “to talk, to make up, to work things out,” and never intended to harm Love.
Huguely’s attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence told jurors that Huguely left that night believing that Love had not been badly hurt and that when a detective later told him he’d killed Love, he repeated: “I didn’t, I didn’t, I did not.”
“No way anything I did last night could have killed her,” Huguely told police in a videotaped interview, Lawrence said.
Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, and Love, 22, of Cockeysville, Md., played for the nationally ranked lacrosse teams at U-Va. and dated over two years. The two divergent accounts of what happened between them during that final argument came on the first day of Huguely’s murder trial, which has drawn national attention.
Huguely has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and five other charges, including the theft of Love’s laptop. Huguely took the computer, Lawrence said in his opening statement, but it was an “impulsive” act intended to goad Love into calling him the next morning.
To prove first-degree murder, which can carry a life sentence, the prosecution must show that Huguely intended to kill Love, although under the law no specific amount of time is required to form that intention.
Huguely’s lawyers said in opening statements that he never planned or wanted to hurt Love. The lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, Lawrence said in his opening statement, “should be the only verdict you carefully” weigh.
Eight witnesses testified as the trial opened Wednesday, led by Love’s mother, Sharon, and her older sister, Lexie, who took the stand on her 28th birthday to describe the call when she learned that Yeardley was dead and the trip back to their suburban Baltimore home, trailing Yeardley’s car loaded with her music, her clothes and her lacrosse gear.
An officer who was the first police official at Love’s apartment and a downstairs neighbor who said she heard a scuffle shortly before midnight and saw a tall, “stocky” man leaving shortly afterward were among those testifying about the night of Love’s death.
Emotional moments came during the testimony of Love’s roommate Caitlin Whiteley, who found Love on her bed. Love had opted not to go out that night with Whiteley and friends.
When Whiteley returned, she went to Love’s room, tried to wake her, pushed aside Love’s hair, and saw blood and Love’s right eye, which she testified “just was messed up.”
U-Va tennis player Philippe Oudshoorn, who had returned with Whiteley to the apartment, went to Love’s side after he heard Whiteley panic. After he called 911, he tried to revive Love. When he lifted her off the bed to attempt CPR, he testified, her body was limp and lifeless.
Prosecutors allege that Huguely had kicked through Love’s bedroom door and reached in to unlatch it, shook her until her head banged against a wall and left her bleeding.
As they have before, Huguely’s attorneys said they will challenge the state medical examiner’s ruling that blunt-force trauma killed Love. They said medical evidence will show that Love’s death was not immediate and that she may have had heart and breathing functions for as long as two hours.
Lawrence said Huguely believed that he had hit Love’s head against a wall and that her nose was bleeding when he left, and he told that to police in a nearly two-hour taped statement that will be heard in court. Those descriptions were cited by police in their original requests for search warrants.
But Lawrence asserted to jurors that neither injury happened. Instead, Love may have suffered an irregular heartbeat brought on by some pressure on her neck, he said. Whether Huguely held her neck and whether he did it with enough strength to cause harm will result in a battle between nearly a dozen medical experts listed to appear as witnesses for both sides, according to court files.
With that standoff yet to come, prosecutors sought Wednesday to impress upon jurors the volatile nature of Love and Huguely’s relationship.
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman told jurors that Huguely sent the explosive e-mail the Friday before Love’s death, angry that Love was apparently seeing a lacrosse player from another school. The two exchanged a series of angry messages. It is up to the jury to decide, Chapman said, whether Huguely meant it.
He acknowledged that Huguely and Love were seen the next night, days before her death, at a local bar and restaurant being friendly. Love hugged Huguely’s aunt and cousins who also were at the restaurant.
“But,” Chapman told the jurors, “it is a public place. The reality is that the next time George Huguely saw her alone, he killed her.”
Chapman also said that evidence from witnesses will show that the e-mail containing the “kill you” language was deleted “and the evidence will tell you who deleted it,” he said without naming anyone.