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Huguely lawyers fail to get charges dropped

Defense begins case after prosecution questions friends of former University of Virginia student

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

8:47 PM EST, February 15, 2012

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire refused a defense request Wednesday to strike charges against George Huguely V, finding that there was "ample evidence to support a jury finding in favor of all of the indictments" against the former University of Virginia student, including premeditated murder.

Huguely is accused of drunkenly beating to death his former girlfriend, Cockeysville-native Yeardley Love, shortly before they were set to graduate. He is charged with murder, breaking and entering, assault, robbery and other crimes in connection with Love's death in 2010 and the theft of her laptop.

The prosecution rested its case against him early Wednesday afternoon, after bringing roughly 40 people to the witness stand over six days of testimony. Before the defense presented its side, one of Huguely's attorneys, Francis McQ. Lawrence, asked during a motions hearing that most charges against his client be dropped. Lawrence claimed that the prosecution had not met its burden of proof, particularly when it comes to showing Huguely's intent.

"It's just not there," Lawrence said. It's a typical request by defense lawyers at that point in such a serious trial, and the judge emphatically denied it after hearing arguments from each side.

Lawrence and his co-counsel, Rhonda Quagliana, subsequently kicked off their case by calling two medical experts, one of whom testified that he would have expected to see far more damage to Love's brain if she had truly died from "blunt force trauma," as a medical examiner ruled. The expert, a neuropathologist named Jan Leestma, suggested that Love could have suffocated in her own bloody pillow and that injuries to her brain could have been caused by CPR, contradicting earlier prosecution testimony.

The defense witnesses, who spoke for three hours, offered dry technical declarations in contrast to the prosecution's final version of events, told through Huguely's friends. They were called one by one to the witness stand by Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman, who spent the last hours of his presentation detailing Huguely's actions on Love's last day alive.

The college senior began May 2, 2010, by tossing back a few beers and rallying his lacrosse buddies for a father/son golf tournament. As the day went on, he got slurring drunk and tried to hook up with at least three University of Virginia students via text message before — and possibly after — confronting 22-year-old Love at her apartment, according to testimony.

About 9:30 that morning, Huguely had pounced on Chris Clements, a neighbor and friend, while Clements was in bed with his girlfriend, playfully pulling off the comforter and urging him to get moving. The seniors were celebrating the end of their regular lacrosse season, pre-championship games, with a round of golf.

"He jumped on top of me and held me down to the point where I couldn't really move," testified Clements, who's from Baltimore.

Huguely went back to his own off-campus apartment, upstairs from Clements', and started getting ready. His roommate, Kevin Carroll from Towson, said Huguely was "already drinking beer" by 10 a.m.

A little later, they met up in a parking lot outside, where Huguely helped a downstairs neighbor, Caitlin Taylor, pack up her car for a trip to North Carolina. It's unclear if they discussed what happened the night before, when a drunk Huguely banged on her apartment door and window, according to Taylor, until her cousin told him to leave.

This was around 11 a.m. and Huguely again "had a beer in hand," friend Ken Clausen, a lacrosse player from Pennsylvania, testified. The group split into their respective cars, with some of the dads driving, and headed to the golf course.

At some point during the game, in midafternoon, Huguely started texting Taylor. The messages weren't shown to the gallery in court, but they seemed romantic in nature, based on the questions attorneys asked. Didn't you "perceive that he might have had a little crush on you?" Lawrence inquired. Taylor indicated she wasn't interested.

About the time of the texts, with about three holes left in the five-hour game, Huguely lost interest in golf, Clements said.

"He was visibly intoxicated and not fully participating in every hole," said Clements, who didn't drink that day. "He would take a shot here or there."

After the tournament, Huguely couldn't put a coherent thought together, Clausen said. He and a couple of others piled into a car with Huguely's father at the wheel, and headed home. Huguely argued with his father along the way about the "volume of the music," Clausen said.

Several of them went out to dinner, and Huguely caused a minor scene when he tried to set a wine bottle on the table and missed, leading his dad to tell him to stop drinking, Clausen said.

After dinner, they went back to Huguely's apartment complex to hang out, though Huguely stayed in the car talking to his father for a bit, witnesses said. Clausen said it had something to do with Huguely's graduation present, which he "didn't seem too thrilled about."

At 10:03 p.m., Huguely sent a text message to Brea Thomas, another student he casually knew. She said she told him, in a message sent about 11:22 p.m., that she was in the library studying, and didn't hear back from him.

About 20 minutes after that, around 11:40 p.m., a couple of guys went on a beer run, leaving Huguely behind. Prosecutors say this is when Huguely went to Love's apartment, kicked in her bedroom door, attacked her and left her for dead, before stealing her laptop and throwing it away.

Huguely, now 24, has admitted in a taped statement to police to confronting Love, 22, and says he was in her room for 10 minutes or less. His attorney, Lawrence, acknowledged Wednesday while arguing his motion that "an assault and battery occurred." He called Huguely's statement a candid "confession" that can't be ignored.

When Huguely got back to his own apartment, Carroll and Clausen had returned with the beer. They asked him where he had been, and Huguely said that he had been with Clements, who he said had been drinking.

"Kevin pointed out quickly that wasn't correct," Clausen said. They knew Clements was sober that day and working on a paper. The alleged lie set off an alarm bell for Clausen, who said he began studying Huguely.

"I looked at him for a bit. I noticed a change in his demeanor, kind of a blank stare," Clausen said. "'George, what's wrong with you?" he asked once, then twice more and "got no response." Huguely went to bed.

Clausen and some others would talk about their friend's drinking that night. It "had gotten out of control," testified William "Mikey" Thompson, from Richmond. Huguely was getting drunk every time he drank, three or four nights a week, and he was neglecting things he shouldn't.

"The drinking would kind of just fade away other things," Thompson said.

Huguely placed a phone call about 12:15 a.m. May 3, 2010, as Love was struggling alone in her room, according to medical testimony. He called a young woman he had met a week before at a concert, the woman said on the witness stand.

"He was just seeing what I was doing," she testified. The conversation lasted about a minute. "I sent a text to him saying I was out of town and never heard anything back."

Love's body was discovered about two hours later, and Huguely was in custody by 8 a.m.

Medical experts for the prosecution, including the man who performed Love's autopsy, determined that she died from blunt force trauma to the head, which interrupted her heartbeat and, in turn, the flow of blood to her brain. They noted multiple bruises to her brain, including significant contusions on the stem, and said there was no way that CPR could have caused the damage.

Defense witness Leestma contradicted all of those claims, saying he saw little bruising, and what there was could have been caused by CPR. He also said it was possible for Love, who had been drinking that night, to have been smothered by her pillow, which was wet with blood from her nose, though prosecution witnesses have previously said there was no indication of asphyxiation.

A toxicologist also testified for the defense that Love's blood alcohol was twice the legal limit when Huguely confronted her and that she would have had trouble walking smoothly, judging situations and controlling her emotions.

"She was freaked out and she became aggressive and then, ultimately, bad things happened," Lawrence said during the motions hearing, referring to the confrontation she had with Huguely.

Chapman characterized it as an assault that led to "fatal injuries," however, and tried to discredit Leestma while he was on the stand. The neuropathologist runs a consulting business, working as a professional defense witness. He said he has billed roughly $8,000 for his work on the case so far.

"You're an expert witness who goes from state to state," Chapman said.

Court is expected to resume Thursday morning.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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