CHARLOTTESVILLE -- As anyone who keeps an eye on what we so optimistically call the criminal justice system can tell you, juries are hard to figure. Still, defense attorneys can’t go wrong in presenting the accused in the most harmless and sympathetic light – can they?

George Huguely (AP)

That’s why we rarely see a woman charged with anything more heinous than a busted tail light looking the least bit alluring in court. It’s why Casey Anthony, charged in the death of her little girl Caylee, appeared before a jury of her peers in a severe gray suit. And why mob boss Vincent Gigante spent years padding around Greenwich Village in fuzzy slippers, mumbling and in character, as he later admitted. (Martha Stewart, on the other hand, wore a chic black leather jacket, cute booties and a giant ruby on her days in court, and you see how that turned out.)

It would also explain why George Wesley Huguely V, the former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of murdering his 22-year-old girlfriend, Yeardley Love, has come to court looking like somebody’s skinny kid brother, slimmed down considerably since his arrest and sporting a little-boy haircut and suits that swallow him whole.

And it’s surely why the defendant was repeatedly referred to in court on Friday as “Georgie” -- not only by his aunt and godmother, Alina Massaro, who testified for the defense, but by his own attorney, who followed Massaro’s affectionate example.

“I see Georgie here,’’ Massaro told the jury, narrating a restaurant surveillance tape that showed the accused and the deceased chatting pleasantly the night before she died.

Prosecutors contend that just before midnight on May 2, 2010, Huguely stomped up the steps to Love’s apartment, kicked in her bedroom door and slammed her head against the wall in a drunken rage, causing the blunt trauma that coroners have called the cause of death.

His own attorneys allow that yes, he’d had too much to drink, as usual, and yes, had kicked in her door and caused a ruckus. But they say he left her nursing nothing worse than a nosebleed. And thus, knew nothing about her death, which could, they claim, have been caused by a previously undiscovered arrhythmia triggered by the ADD drug Adderall. In this scenario, Love’s brain was bruised after she died, by the EMTs who tried to restart her heart.

The evening before the tragedy, however, there was celebrating all around at Boylan Heights, a restaurant and student hangout where the men’s lacrosse team was holding a dinner honoring seniors, including Huguely, after its last, winning game of yet another championship season.

“There’s Georgie, there’s Yeardley,’’ who played lacrosse on the women’s team, “and they’re holding hands,’’ his aunt said, pointing at the tape.

The testimony from Massaro was meant to undermine the prosecution’s contention that Love was afraid of her on-and-off boyfriend, especially after a February incident in which Huguely pinned her on a bed in a chokehold during a party at his place.

Just days before she died, he’d sent her an e-mail that said, “I should have killed you” after first hearing she’d been with a lacrosse player from another school – the same young man who testified about coming to her rescue at the party in February.

“There Yeardley sees my daughter,’’ Massaro continued in court, “and they embrace…He puts his arm around his mother.’’

So that’s ‘Georgie’ for you -- loving to his mama, unthreatening to his whatever-she-was Yeardley, of whom all the Huguelys seem to have thought so highly?

Only, if you’re the intent juror in the front row who resembles a bespectacled Emma Thompson, is referring to him that way too obviously manipulative a play from Georgie’s lawyer? Or if you’re the younger black guy, are you thinking that these preppies and their cutesy names are perhaps not helping themselves?

“That’s me hugging Yeardley,’’ Massaro went on, “and Georgie’s right here with Olivia,’’ another of her four girls.

The witness’s sister, Marta Murphy, and Murphy’s ex-husband, George Huguely IV, who may still testify during the sentencing phase of the trial, have a terrible burden, too, of course, no matter how much hearing their son’s diminutive in this context grates. And whatever the jury decides, they’ll bear it absent the sympathy that’s so easy to feel for the Loves.

A lot has been written about the Huguely clan’s wealth -- the boar’s head that hung over the fireplace in the Potomac home where the defendant grew up, the exclusive golf club where he teed off with his father on the last day Love was alive. Only, who could begrudge them the 40-foot yacht or the Outer Banks beach house now? They’ll need all the cosseting they can get in the years they’ll spend wondering what became of the boy to whom they gave that little-kid name.

Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors ‘She the People.’ Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.