— A Charlottesville jury recommended Wednesday a combined sentence of 26 years in prison for George Huguely V, less than three hours after finding him guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny in the 2010 alcohol-fueled beating death of Yeardley Love, his former University of Virginia girlfriend.
Huguely was acquitted of more serious murder charges, requiring premeditation, as well as robbery, burglary and breaking-and-entering allegations. Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire will set a formal date for sentencing in April, when he will choose to accept the recommendation, as is typical in most cases, or reject it.
Standing outside the courthouse in the pouring rain at the end of the night, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence said his team was disappointed in the verdict and looked "forward to some corrections in what happened here."
He declined to elaborate. Huguely's family walked briskly from the courthouse without comment, as did jurors.
Prosecutor Warner D. Chapman spoke to reporters briefly. "There's nothing that we can [say] that will make good the terrible and tragic loss to the Love family," he said. "There are no winners in this case. There's nothing but loss."
In a statement, Love's mother and sister — all that remain of her immediate family — thanked Chapman for his "tireless efforts." They offered emotional testimony during the sentencing.
"[Yeardley's death] is still with me, every single day from sunup to sundown," said her mother, Sharon Love, who lives in Cockeysville. She described her daughter's murder as torture. Her husband died of cancer in 2005, and she always expected her girls to have each other when she was gone.
The case against Huguely captured national attention, revealing issues of alcohol abuse and domestic violence within the ranks of a respected university and a privileged class. Love and Huguely were both well-liked lacrosse players who grew up attending private schools, she at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson and he at the Landon School in Bethesda.
But their tumultuous relationship — marked by physical confrontations and infidelity — belied their seemingly picture-perfect worlds. Love, from Cockeysville, once hit him with her purse. And Huguely, who's from Chevy Chase, had drunkenly put Love in a chokehold, according to witness testimony.
"I'm scared to know I can get that drunk to the point where I cannot control how I behave," Huguely wrote Love after the incident, according to evidence presented in court.
No one spoke on Huguely's behalf during the sentencing proceeding, aside from his attorneys. He hung his head once the guilty verdicts — reached after nine hours of deliberation — were read, and sat quietly between his attorneys during the sentencing phase of the trial, which began immediately.
Chapman outlined Huguely's criminal record, which included convictions for resisting arrest and being drunk in public. Then Love's mother and sister described the effect of her death in heart-wrenching detail.
Lexie Love, Yeardley's older sister, said there's now a "huge hole" in her life. "I've never wanted something so bad in my life than I have to see her face again," Lexie said. "It physically hurts.
Some jurors wiped their eyes as the Loves spoke.
Many in the courtroom were surprised that Huguely's parents, who were on the witness list, did not speak on behalf of their son, leaving his lawyer alone to advocate for mercy.
Rhonda Quagliana urged jurors to see the 24-year-old as human. He's a "friend, a brother and a son," she said, adding that his judgment and decision-making skills were clouded by alcohol and immaturity the night he assaulted Love.
"George's drinking was out of control," she said. "It's not an excuse, it's not a justification, it's just a fact."
Huguely's attorneys had argued during the two-week trial that their client was an uncomplicated "boy athlete" who never meant Love any harm, and just "wanted to talk" when he confronted her May, 2, 2010, about a recent infidelity. The date was just weeks shy of their college graduation.
Huguely told police he had had more than a dozen drinks that day and kicked in her bedroom door. He said he wrestled with Love, who was "freaked out" and screaming. He shook her, restrained her, and eventually threw her onto the bed, he said, before storming out and grabbing her laptop along the way, leading to the grand-larceny charge.
Love had a black eye and finger-shaped bruises on her body when a roommate found her shortly after 2 o'clock the next morning.
Huguely's attorneys claimed that Love's injuries combined with her own drinking likely led to her death, suggesting she suffocated in her own bloody pillow.
But Chapman said the incident was a pure assault and murder that had been building for weeks. He asked the jury to sentence Huguely to enough time for him to contemplate the extent of the loss he caused.
Jurors deliberated for most of the day Wednesday, indicating through notes to the judge that they were carefully considering evidence to determine whether Huguely intentionally killed Love, or if his role in her death was more akin to involuntary manslaughter.
In three separate notes, they asked for a legal definition of the word "reason," which was contained in jury instructions; clarification of seemingly contradictory instructions having to do with intent to kill and cause of death; and they inquired about a missing exhibit — the letter Huguely wrote to Love, apologizing for the choking incident.
Huguely had been charged with two forms of felony murder, one alleging he premeditated the killing, the other claiming it was committed in the commission of a robbery. Both are punishable by life in prison.
Second-degree murder, which does not require premeditation, carries a maximum sentence of 40 years. Jurors recommended a term of 25 years on that charge, and a term of one year for grand larceny, which carries a maximum of 20 years.
Huguely has been jailed since his arrest nearly two years ago, the day after the encounter, and will likely receive credit for his time served.
He will also serve most of his sentence. Virginia is a no-parole state. Huguely withdrew from the University of Virginia shortly after his arrest, though Love was awarded a bachelor's degree in government and politics posthumously.
In a statement, University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan said "Yeardley's family, teammates, sorority sisters and friends – indeed all of us at the University – continue to feel the loss of this promising young woman. It remains now to each of us to commit to caring for one another and, when we see someone in trouble, to having the courage to intercede and offer assistance."
Love's mother, Sharon Love, said she tries to be positive, no matter how difficult it is, focusing on the One Love Foundation she and other family and friends created in her daughter's name.
"You just have to pick yourself up and do the best you can do," she said, "do the best for Yeardley."
Statement from the Love family
We dread looking back on the events of May 3, 2010, and pray for the strength to get through each day. Time has not made us miss Yeardley any less, in fact quite the opposite. It is truly devastating to wake up each day and realize that she is no longer here. Yeardley's contagious smile, kind spirit and gentle touch have left this world but we know that heaven has an angel like no other. We will continue to keep her spirit alive by performing works of kindness in her name. We would like to thank the Commonwealth and particularly Dave Chapman for his tireless efforts on our behalf.
Our hearts burst with pride when we think of Yeardley's accomplishments but our hearts melt when we remember her kindness and grace. We have received letters from so many people telling us stories of her many acts of kindness. Intelligence and athletic ability are God-given talents. Kindness and compassion are choices… choices that Yeardley made every day without a second thought. We'd like to thank everyone for their kindness and respect of our privacy during such a difficult time.
— Sharon & Lexie Love