CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s Saturday night at Boylan Heights, one of the largest bars near the University of Virginia, and the upscale burger joint undergoes a transformation. In the upstairs dining room, the music is turned up to blaring, the lights dim. The bartenders switch from glasses to throwaway plastic cups. Security guards take their places. And a line of guys in button-downs and women in heels begin streaming up the stairs.
This is the place where the tempestuous relationship between George Huguely V and Yeardley Love often played out. Just down the street from where they lived, it was their favorite bar, their extended living room, their off-campus dining hall. It was the setting for pivotal conversations, family gatherings and boozy celebrations. It’s where Huguely handed out his phone number to women, where a crowd of student athletes often materialized, where Love and her roommates had brunch the last day she was alive.
“We were just eating, just casually drinking, talking,” Caitlin Whiteley, Love’s roommate and teammate, said on the stand. “We were talking about plans for the summer.”
Now, with Huguely, 24, on trial for murder, the place buzzes with talk of the case, and Huguely’s and Love’s faces flash on flatscreen televisions as the nightly news soundlessly delivers the latest developments.
The preppy sports bar might seem like an institution to undergraduates who cycle through town every four years, but the place has been open just over three years. Boylan Heights is named for a neighborhood in Raleigh, N.C., (along with a 1980s album by the Connells, a Raleigh-based pop-rock band) and has an academic-themed menu that labels appetizers as “registration” and desserts as “extra credit.” You can order “The Valedictorian,” a vegan burger made from brown rice, carrots and pecans — or create your own using a No. 2 pencil and SAT-style bubble sheet. And then there are the only-in-a-college-town drink specials, such as $3 pitchers on Sundays.
When 22-year-old Love was found dead and Huguely was arrested on May 3, 2010, their circle of teammates and friends was forced to do something rarely asked of college students: Document with legal precision everything that happened that weekend, including who slept at whose apartment, who drank with whom, who got what text messages and who noticed that Huguely had yet again become wasted on what they called “Sunday Funday.”
Many of those friends took the stand this month, sometimes with their parents sitting in the courtroom, to say those things out loud. In that sometimes embarrassing testimony, Boylan Heights was frequently the backdrop.
One of the women who testified had spent time with Huguely late on a Tuesday night, just days before Love died. She was asked about that night by Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman.
“I saw him at Boylan Heights and then saw him at my house,” she said. “He called and said he was coming over.”
Chapman asked if Huguely described what had happened earlier that night. Others had testified that Love stormed into Huguely’s apartment, yelled at him for seeing and texting other women, and hit him with her purse. “He did not.”
And how long was he there? “About an hour.”
And then what happened? “He left.”
The intimate details of the U-Va. drinking, dating and hooking-up scene might shock those who haven’t been in college for a while. With this in mind, Huguely’s defense lawyers carefully screened potential jurors.
“Do you have any strong views about college drinking?” defense lawyer Rhonda Quagliana asked one potential juror. The woman’s response: “It happens. That’s the norm.” Another responded: “It’s what I kind of expect of college students.”
Others didn’t feel that way, and several who were outspoken were not seated on the jury. “I think they are doing it just a little bit too much,” one woman said. Another potential juror said he told his three children, ranging in age from 16 to 22, to avoid the Corner, the historic nickname for the strip of restaurants and bars near campus. He flat-out stated: “The Corner is a dangerous place.”
Drinking has been a cornerstone of the college experience for generations, and U-Va. is no different. A bawdy drinking song from the university’s earliest days includes this verse: “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill, we’re gonna get drunk tonight. The faculty’s afraid of us; They know we’re in the right. So fill up your cups, your loving cups, as full as full can be. And as long as love and liquor last, we’ll drink to the U of V.” (The song also includes a verse that has been construed as promoting sexual assault, so the tune has been removed from the marching band’s repertoire.)
On a typical Saturday night, 29 percent of U-Va. students don’t drink, 34 percent have one to three “standard drinks,” 18 percent have four to five, and 20 percent have more than six, according to a university survey of students in spring 2010.
“Those [last two groups] are the ones that we’re concerned about,” said Susie Bruce, director of U-Va.’s substance abuse prevention center.
The testimony of nearly a dozen former U-Va. lacrosse players revealed a culture of heavy drinking, even during the season. The average college athlete, nationally, is not much more likely to drink than the average college student. But athletes have significantly higher rates of heavy drinking — consuming more than six drinks at a time, according to a study by the NCAA. Many teams have rules governing how many nights a week players can drink, which can lead to bursts of excessive drinking during those windows.
“Their schedules are so regimented, and sometimes they will miss out on ‘college life,’ ” Bruce said. ”To have that one night out — sometimes the moderation method doesn't get out there as much as it should.”
Although many of the jurors in the small college town have likely driven past Boylan Heights at some point, maybe even stopped by for dinner or beers, Huguely’s lawyer spent hours explaining the neighborhood to jurors through photographs and testimony.
The jury got its first look inside on Friday when the defense played a Boylan Heights surveillance video that was captured the night before Love died. One of Huguely’s aunts, Alina Massaro, was there that night with her two teenage daughters and Huguely’s mother, so she narrated the audio-less clip.
“Georgie is right here. That's Georgie. Yeardley is back here,” she said, using a laser pointer on the screen. “He’s making his way back to where Yeardley is. He must be telling her to come over to say hi.”
Massaro explained that it was around midnight on Saturday. That Love was wearing a black-and-white-striped tank top. That at one point the two held hands. That Love hugged Huguely’s relatives and stood chatting with them in Boylan Heights.
Details of the rest of that weekend’s events emerged in testimony at the trial.
Love had just returned from a lacrosse road trip to Northwestern, during which she and Huguely exchanged angry, profanity-laced e-mails.
Huguely and the men’s lacrosse team were celebrating having just won their last regular-season game.
The next day, members of the men’s team went golfing with their dads. Huguely started drinking early that morning and continued on the course, becoming progressively more drunk, missing shots and telling incoherent stories in the clubhouse. He drank wine at dinner with his father and two teammates. He drank beer back at his apartment with friends. At about a quarter to midnight, he headed over to Love’s apartment. When she wouldn’t open the door, he kicked through it.
Love and her roommates had been in and out of Boylan Heights that Sunday nearly as often as they were in and out of their three-bedroom apartment. They stopped by for brunch, then returned home to study for upcoming final exams. They went back for pitchers of beer, then returned home to shower. The plan was to go back to Boylan Heights at about 10.30 p.m. for a friend’s birthday party, but Love decided to go to sleep instead.
Hours later, her roommate returned home from a night of bar-hopping with a men’s tennis player to find an unresponsive Love facedown in a bloody pillow on her bed.
That was nearly two years ago, and half of the undergraduates who were on campus then have since graduated and ventured into the real world. They were replaced by another wave of students, another wave of lacrosse players, another wave of 20-somethings gathering at Boylan Heights.