CHARLOTTESVILLE — Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V was convicted of second-degree murder Wednesday and sentenced by a jury to 26 years in prison.
The jury of seven men and five women decided Huguely did not plan to kill his onetime girlfriend Yeardley Love on May 2, 2010, when he kicked through her bedroom door, shook her violently, wrestled with her and left her bloodied in her bed. The 22-year-old was found dead by a roommate hours later.
Prosecutors had sought a first-degree murder conviction, while Huguely’s attorneys were hoping for the lesser charge of manslaughter. The verdict is in between the two.
The case of the two accomplished lacrosse players at a prominent university has captured national attention. In the small courtroom where relatives of Huguely and Love have sat across from one another for most of the month, there has been an overwhelming sense of lost promise and squandered privilege.
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Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, stood stoic, but paler than he had been earlier in the day, as the verdict was read. Love’s mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, linked arms in a front-row bench. A whimper could be heard from Huguely’s side of the courtroom, where his grandmother sat in the front row with other relatives.
The jury also found Huguely guilty of stealing Love’s computer as he left her apartment. The panel sentenced Huguely to 25 years on the murder conviction, and one year for grand larceny. Circuit Court Judge Edward L. Hogshire can accept or lower, but not increase, the jury’s sentence.
“There’s nothing to make good the terrible tragedy done to the Love family,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman said after Wednesday’s proceedings. “What we do in court is a rough approximation of justice. We hope they feel some solace.”
Each of the jurors reached after the verdict declined to comment.
As jurors began to consider Huguely’s sentence, Sharon and Lexie Love took the stand and emotionally described how their lives have changed.
The family still celebrates Love’s birthday and marked the anniversary of her death, Sharon Love testified.
Lexie Love, 28, said everything around her is a reminder of her lost sister: songs on the radio, photos of Yeardley’s friends, their childhood home near Baltimore, their family dog. She said Yeardley’s room and the bathroom they shared remain as they were before she died. “I don’t want to touch it or change it,” she said.
Still, Sharon Love said she worries that her sense of her daughter is slowly slipping away.
“Every year that goes by, I’m afraid I’m forgetting pieces of our life,” she said, sobbing.
Rhonda Quagliana, one of Huguely’s attorneys, urged the jurors to consider a lighter sentence. “No person is the sum of the worst decisions he’s ever made,” she said.
The verdict came after a two-week trial that centered on about 10 minutes in Love’s apartment during the on-and-off couple’s senior year. Jurors, who deliberated for about nine hours, weighed the “stupid drunk” and “boy athlete” portrayal of Huguely by the defense and the image of a controlling abuser put forward by prosecutors.
Huguely did not testify on his own behalf. The jury heard from him only through a videotaped statement he gave to police hours after Love’s body was found.
It was never a question of whether Huguely and Love were together the night of May 2, 2010, or that they fought. In his statement to police, which was played in court, Huguely admitted that he had shaken Love, grabbed her by the neck and wrestled her to the floor after she refused to talk with him. He said she hit her head against a wall.
Love, of Cockeysville, Md., was bleeding but alive when he left, Huguely told police. He also told them that he didn’t call for medical help because she didn’t seem seriously injured.
When a detective told him Love was dead, Huguely wailed: “She’s not dead!” “There’s no way she’s dead!”
Medical experts came to different conclusions about how Love died.
Love had bruises and some abrasions but died of blunt-force trauma to her head, the Virginia medical examiner’s office ruled. A defense expert said she suffocated in her pillow, which was wet with blood.
During the trial, prosecution witnesses detailed an increasingly volatile relationship between Huguely and Love. On their last night together, prosecutors said, an angry Huguely kicked through Love’s door, reached in to undo the latch and tried to force her to listen to him even as she told him to go away.
A few days earlier, Huguely had sent Love an e-mail saying, in part, “I should have killed you” after finding out about a liaison she had with a lacrosse player from a rival school, according to testimony.
The wording was “hyperbole,” Huguely’s attorneys told the jury.
Chapman left it open for jurors to decide whether that e-mail may have been a rant from a spurned and immature man, but he also presented them with a witness who testified that he went to Love’s aid when Huguely had her in a chokehold in February 2010.
Huguely’s defense team told jurors that Huguely played “a role” in Love’s death but portrayed it as a tragic accident due to his recklessness. As early as his opening statement, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence told jurors that if they found themselves struggling over Huguely’s role, it should be involuntary manslaughter that they looked to as their verdict.
After the verdict, Lawrence said Huguely has “displayed amazing resilience and courage.”
“He’s hopeful, he’s spiritual and we look forward to correcting what happened here tonight,” Lawrence said.
Huguely came to U-Va. from a family with a well-established lumber and building supply business, and a private school education at Landon in Bethesda.
He majored in anthropology and intended to go to San Francisco after graduation, he told police, a cross-country move that was among the things he had wanted to talk over with Love.
As his senior year wore on, Huguely’s drinking became excessive, and some teammates and their girlfriends testified that they had met and discussed an intervention after the lacrosse season ended.
Before that could happen, Huguely was under arrest.
Huguely himself seemed to have moments of admitting that his drinking — if not his outbursts — had become a problem.
In Love’s bedroom, crime scene investigators found a letter Huguely had sent to Love after the chokehold episode, saying that he was “horrified” by what he had done and that “alcohol is ruining my life.” Yet months later, he was kicking through her door, drunk, again.
And to the detectives who arrested him, he said: “I should not have gone over there when I was drinking.”
The impact of Love’s death extended beyond the tight-knit lacrosse community and the circles of friends who created a foundation in her memory that already has helped fund a $1 million athletic field at Love’s prep school alma mater in Towson, Md.
Love was invoked by name when Virginia law was changed to allow more victims of domestic violence to seek protective orders. The events surrounding her death also prompted closer counseling, monitoring and, in some circumstances, sanctioning of U-Va. students for alcohol and drug issues, dating violence and past criminal problems.
But it wasn’t those sweeping changes on painful display in the courtroom. It was the deeply personal impact of her death.
During the trial, Sharon and Lexie Love sometimes stared coldly at Huguely. As a government major, Yeardley Love had completed an internship in New York and was considering going back. On a May day in 2010, she was sitting at brunch talking about such plans with the roommate who would find her body only hours later.
“There’s something about everything that reminds me of her,” Lexie Love said of her sister. “The absolute worst thing in the world that could have ever happened happened.”
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