In the end, when George Huguely V rose to speak for himself before learning his punishment for murdering his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love, he turned toward Love’s mother and sister: “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

His hands in cuffs, his imposing frame in a gray-striped jail jumpsuit, the former University of Virginia lacrosse player added: “I hope and pray that you may find peace.”

He looked at the benches closest to him, filled Thursday by his parents, grandmother, younger sister, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, and his voice finally cracked as he thanked them “for all their love and support.”

Huguely was sentenced to 23 years in prison by Circuit Court Judge Edward L. Hogshire, who chose to impose a shorter term than the 26 years recommended by the jury. In Virginia, a judge can lower, but not increase, a jury’s recommendation.

Love, 22, was found facedown in a bloody pillow by a roommate on May 3, 2010, a few hours after a drunken Huguely kicked through her bedroom door, shook her and wrestled her to the ground as they argued about their recent breakup. Huguely told police that he left her bleeding but alive when he pushed her back onto her bed “flopping like a fish.”

Love’s mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, did not comment on the sentence. But they issued a statement saying they were “relieved to put this chapter behind us.”

“We find no joy in others’ sorrow,” they wrote.

Huguely, 24, and Love, who was also a successful lacrosse player, were within weeks of graduation from the elite university. Photos of the two, pulled from university athletes’ biographies, have flashed across newspapers and television screens. Those images and stereotypes of privilege and lost promise hung over the trial and the sentencing.

Huguely’s attorneys have conceded that he had a drinking problem severe enough that his friends had discussed an intervention to get him help. If he’d received help from someone, they argued, Huguely “would have done what most do — graduate from college, become employed and grown out of the patterns that many develop as college undergraduates.”

Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Warner “Dave” Chapman told the judge that drinking wasn’t to blame. “The issue isn’t too much alcohol. It’s too much violence,” he said.

Chapman said that while Huguely’s parents have a chance to see what their son may make of his life, the Loves lost that. Lexie Love is set to marry soon, Chapman said, “but the maid of honor will be missing,” a statement that left Lexie wiping away tears.

Huguely, of Chevy Chase, won’t be old when he’s released, and “there’s a world of good he can do,” Chapman said.

He said Huguely had opportunities to turn his behavior around but failed to heed three “wake-up calls” showing that he could be violent, especially when drinking.

During Thursday’s hearing, a former U-Va. student testified that in 2008 an angry Huguely put his hands around her throat at a bar. She said he became upset because she told her father — a former coach of Huguely’s — about his excessive drinking. She said Huguely backed off only when a bouncer intervened and threw him out. A former teammate who was briefly involved with Love testified that Huguely punched him as he slept. And a woman who had sporadically dated Huguely told the judge that he punched a U-Va. tennis player who was walking with her.

Hogshire invoked those incidents when he asked Huguely to stand to hear his sentence. The bar incident, the judge said, “was a foreshadowing of what was coming.” He called the others “a preview of the kind of violence Mr. Huguely is capable of under the influence of alcohol.”

In a statement, Huguely’s family members said that they “love George and will always support him” and that they believe Love’s death was an accident.

They also said that Love “will always be in our hearts.”

Huguely had been the starting quarterback, an honor-roll student and a lacrosse all-American at the renowned Landon School in Bethesda before heading to U-Va., where he was an anthropology major, according to his online team biography.

Love, of Cockeysville, Md., a Baltimore suburb, had been a member of the lacrosse and field hockey teams at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, Md., where a new field for lacrosse, soccer and field hockey is to be dedicated in her honor Sept. 9.

The case sparked changes at U-Va. and beyond.

Virginia lawmakers mentioned Love as they expanded laws to make it easier for people who are dating, but not living together, to obtain court orders seeking protection from an abusive partner.

The university now requires that at the start of each school year, students report whether they have been arrested or convicted of anything other than minor traffic infractions. And it stepped up training to help students, faculty and staff respond when they think someone may be in an abusive relationship or struggling with alcoholism or mental-health issues.

At the close of the hearing, Huguely said, “I love you,” in the direction of his mother, Marta Murphy, as he was led from the courtroom and returned to the local jail, where he has been held since his arrest and will remain for as long as 60 days while he is evaluated for his state prison slot.

Under Virginia rules, he will serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.

To view galleries of photos and hear Flaherty discuss the case, go to