Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- State prosecutors portrayed former University of Virginia lacrosse player George W. Huguely V as a violent man whose actions caused the death of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old UVA student and the defendant’s ex-girlfriend.
Commonwealth Attorney Warner D. Chapman, in closing arguments yesterday in Charlottesville state court, showed the jury photographs of her injuries. He described “20 to 25 distinct contusions” including a swollen, shut eye, and lacerations in Love’s mouth and under her chin. Her bedroom door sat along the courtroom wall, a large hole by the doorknob where Huguely told police he had kicked it in the night of her death.
Huguely is charged with first-degree murder, robbery, burglary, breaking and entering, grand larceny and murder in the commission of a robbery. Love’s badly bruised body was discovered by a friend and teammate who went to the victim’s room in her apartment about 2 a.m. on May 3, 2010, finding her face down in a pool of blood on her pillow.
Huguely, 24, faces a possible life sentence if convicted. Jury deliberations are to begin Feb. 22.
Before closing arguments began, his case was dealt a setback when prosecutors claimed defense e-mails tainted some witnesses, prompting the judge to limit key expert-testimony on how the victim died. Following the judge’s ruling and a truncated defense case, Huguely’s lawyers rested without him testifying.
The defendant told police investigators that Huguely entered Love’s apartment through an unlocked front door and then kicked open the door to her bedroom, where police found her body. Huguely said the two had an altercation during which he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall,” according to an affidavit filed by prosecutors.
‘Reflection of Malice’
“These injuries are a reflection of malice,” Chapman said, referring to the photos during his closing argument. “If you’ve got your arm wrapped around her head and her face grinding into the ground, that’s malice.”
In the defense’s closing arguments, attorney Francis Lawrence said Huguely took responsibility for his role in Love’s death, asking the jury to consider a lesser conviction of involuntary manslaughter.
“George had no intent to commit a crime. It was immature compulsiveness,” Lawrence said. “When he was drunk, he was aggressively evil.”
“It was an altercation, coupled with alcohol and injuries that caused asphyxia,” the defense lawyer said. “It’s unlikely that none of us have touched someone we love in a rude manner,” Lawrence said. “I tell my kid, ‘I’ll crush you.’”
Lawrence said when Huguely went to Love’s apartment the night she died, it was to talk with her, not to beat her and take her computer. He also said that Love first got aggressive with Huguely.
Chapman, in his rebuttal, dragged over to the jurors Love’s bedroom door.
“If you think he went over there to have a conversation,” the prosecutor said, “what kind of conversation starter is that?”
Prosecutors spent almost two weeks presenting their case, which included testimony from former students and medical experts. The government concluded its evidence Feb. 15.
The defense case was cut short by the judge’s ruling on the e-mails. Four messages were sent to medical experts by Huguely’s other defense attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, after the trial began, prosecutors said yesterday. Dr. Robert Uscinski, a neurosurgeon, was among those receiving the missives detailing earlier testimony. Under court rules, witnesses aren’t allowed to see previous testimony to avoid the possibility they may alter their own statements.
“When you have knowledge of topics in the case, you have a material advantage,” argued Chapman. The judge “cannot make a finding that this gentleman is completely without taint.”
Lawrence acknowledged that his legal team was at fault in sending the e-mails. But in questioning before Judge Edward Hogshire, the witness, Uscinski, said that while he may have received the e-mails, he didn’t recall reading them.
“I have more than 4,000 unopened e-mails,” he said.
Uscinski’s testimony sought to rebut the statements of the state medical examiner who said Love, a member of UVA’s women’s lacrosse team, died of blunt force trauma. Earlier testimony by a defense witness said that her brain injuries may have been caused by resuscitation attempts by paramedics.
In ruling on the matter, Hogshire said he was “incredibly disappointed” about the e-mails being sent to the witness, but that he would allow Uscinski to testify. The testimony, however, wouldn’t be allowed to touch on resuscitation or matters that were discussed in the e-mail communications, the judge ruled.
Moved to Strike
Prosecutors also moved to strike the testimony of Dr. Jan E. Leestma, a Chicago neuropathologist, who testified in Huguely’s defense several days ago and who also was copied on the e-mails.
Following the ruling, Uscinski took the witness stand and testified that his examination of Love’s autopsy showed some blood in her brain’s temporal lobe. He said her brain stem, however, located deeper inside the brain, wasn’t distorted.
He said the blood, most likely the result of swelling, was “possibly but less likely caused by trauma.”
At one point, he tried to simplify the information for the jury, likening his findings to finding a driver dead in a car under a highway overpass.
“The assumption might be that the driver hit the bridge of the underpass,” Uscinski said. “But it must be a pretty major impact” for the driver to be dead. “You’ve got to see more than a dent in the bumper.”
Uscinski also testified that laboratory slides and stains of the victim’s brain tissue showed a lack of oxygen and not bleeding. Leestma testified earlier in the trial that Love’s death was caused by asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen to the brain.
On Feb. 17, witnesses testified that, days before Love’s death, she hit the defendant with her purse and demanded to know if he’d exchanged text messages with two women.
Huguely, seeking to portray the 2010 death of the fellow senior as accidental, called two witnesses who described an incident at Huguely’s apartment a few days before she was found dead.
“She asked who we were and she asked if George had been texting us,” said Caroline Wattenmaker, then a high school student visiting the university who Huguely took back to his apartment after meeting her and a friend at a club. “She hit George with her purse and he got up off the sofa and backed away,” she told the jury. “He asked her to leave.”
Her companion that day, Alice Billmire, testified Love appeared to be frustrated. Billmire said she was in another room at the time Wattenmaker said the altercation took place. The two women described Huguely as “polite” and “perfectly nice.”
In addition to the two women, the jury heard from Huguely’s aunt, Alina Massaro. She narrated video played for the jury that was taken from a surveillance camera at a Charlottesville restaurant. In the video, taken two days before the alleged murder, Huguely, who Massaro referred to as Georgie, is seen hugging his 17-and 18-year-old cousins and holding hands with Love.
The defense also addressed the issue of how hard the victim may have been slammed against the wall.
Michael Woodhouse, a bio-mechanical consultant and associate research professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School, testified he saw no evidence of an impact profile on a piece of drywall that came from Love’s apartment.
In his closing argument today, Chapman, the commonwealth attorney, portrayed the death as the result of a deliberate act.
“This is not an accident case,” he said. “This is the case of a woman who went to bed in what should be one of the safest and secure places -- her home. And then he began to assault her,” the prosecutor said. “He left her for dead.”
The case is Commonwealth of Virginia v. Huguely, 11-00102, Virginia Circuit Court (Charlottesville).
--With assistance from Tom Schoenberg in Washington. Editor: David E. Rovella
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