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 universityhas 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.