By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun
8:58 PM EST, February 14, 2012
— Prosecutors in the Charlottesville murder trial of George Huguely V plan to rest their case Wednesday, on the sixth day of testimony, against the former University of Virginia student, having portrayed him — largely through his own words — as an abusive, alcoholic brute.
Defense attorneys, who will begin presenting their side, are likely to counter with an image of a naive jock who never meant to hurt Yeardley Love, his on-and-off girlfriend of two years. The 22-year-old from Cockeysville died in 2010, after Huguely, who's from Chevy Chase, confronted her about their relationship problems while they were both drunk late one Sunday night, a few weeks before they were set to graduate.
He is charged with first-degree murder in Love's death, which attracted national attention. And while the latest medical testimony, delivered Tuesday, appeared to reinforce the image of a violent killing, Huguely's lawyers have said he lacks the premeditation to support the murder charge.
In opening statements, defense attorneys asked the jury to consider involuntary manslaughter and blamed prescription drugs and alcohol for contributing to Love's death, despite a medical examiner's claims to the contrary. They also say that bruising to Love's body and brain was the result of rescuers feverishly trying to revive the young woman, rather than "blunt force trauma" from a beating.
Those theories are expected to be explored in depth over the next couple of days as the defense looks to lessen the impact of testimony describing a vicious end for Love. At issue is Huguely's alcohol use, which could be employed by defense attorneys to show that he was too intoxicated to control his actions and that Huguely was unaware that Love was fatally injured when he left her apartment.
A taped statement that Huguely gave to police, played in court by prosecutors, seemed damaging to his defense — he admits assaulting Love — but it could also help him. Huguely sounded genuinely shocked on the recording when Charlottesville detectives told him Love was dead, suggesting he believed he left her alive. He told police he thought he was being questioned about an assault.
And even before the trial began, attorneys watching the lead-up to the case said that it would likely come down to a choice between "gradations of homicide."
It's unclear whether Huguely will testify in his defense.
In presenting their case through the testimony of more than 30 witnesses, prosecutors tried to pre-emptively chip away at defense suppositions, by raising them as questions to medical experts, who systematically debunked the theories. Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman also tried to address Huguely's intent by showing that the young man, now 24, had a well-known history of violence toward Love.
Huguely had previously attacked her while intoxicated, putting her in a choke hold, according to testimony. And a week before she died, he sent her an email, later shared with her friends, saying he "should have killed" her when he learned of an infidelity.
In his taped statement, played for the jury last week, Huguely admitted having at least 15 drinks throughout the day before quarreling with Love, who had also been drinking, and throwing her around her off-campus apartment just before midnight on May 2, 2010. He said he kicked in her locked bedroom door as she screamed at him to leave, "wrestled" with her until her nose bled, then tossed her onto the bed and stormed out. He grabbed her laptop on the way as "collateral" he said, and disposed of it in an out-of-the-way trash bin.
Tuesday's testimony focused on the injuries prosecutors claim he left behind.
A neuropathologist described multiple wounds to Love's brain, including "significant" damage to her brain stem that could have caused respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, loss of consciousness and "sudden death."
"It could be immediate or it could take a couple of hours" for consequences to set in, testified Christine E. Fuller, director of neuropathology and autopsy pathology at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Love survived for "at least two hours" after she was injured, another physician testified.
Fuller's testimony continued a theme by prosecutors, who spent the past day and a half presenting autopsy evidence showing that Love was bruised both inside and out, with a black eye, contusions on her limbs and marks to her brain.
Some kind of "blunt force trauma" bruised the underside of her brain, according to Fuller, who said such wounds are received when the brain moves separately from the skull, then comes to an abrupt stop. She gave examples of a severe punch, an automobile accident and a fall from an extreme height as possible causes.
There were also bruises caused by "sheer force," meaning that momentum and torque — a sort of powerful twisting — likely led to them, Fuller said.
One of Huguely's defense attorneys, Rhonda Quagliana, tried to discredit Fuller's conclusions on cross examination, questioning whether the medical doctor had received proper training in trauma analysis. She also suggested that rescue efforts, including CPR, could have created Love's brain injuries.
But Fuller said that was highly unlikely.
"How do you know that?" Quagliana asked.
"I've seen hundreds of brains [following CPR], and nary a one has that," Fuller replied.
Maria-Beatriz Lopes, a neuropathologist with the University of Virginia Health System, took the stand after Fuller. She acknowledged that there were instances where CPR can cause damage to a brain, based on a 1987 article published in the Critical Care Medicine journal. But she added that Love's case wasn't one of them.
Quagliana pressed Lopes about whether she could identify the cause of the blunt force trauma or the degree of force used, but the doctor could do neither. Of the force, she said simply that "it was enough to cause contusion and [bleeding] in the brain."
Prosecutors recalled William T. Gormley, a Virginia assistant chief medical examiner, to the stand later in the day to testify about Love's cause of death. The toxicology reports showed that she had a "nonlethal level" of alcohol in her system and a "therapeutic level of amphetamines" in the form of prescription Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit disorder.
"Nothing in that would be a direct cause of death," he said. "The only apparent and most significant cause of death would be blunt force trauma to the head."
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