CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. ——Two months before Yeardley Love's bruised body was found in a pool of blood in her apartment near the University of Virginia, George Huguely V had violently wrestled her to the ground in a "choke hold," prosecutors said Wednesday, describing it as a precursor to the attack that would kill her.
"This was a turbulent relationship," Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman said during opening statements in Huguely's trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court. The 24-year-old is charged with murder and grand larceny among other crimes in connection with Love's death in early May 2010.
She and Yeardley's older sister, Lexie, 28, were among a half-dozen witnesses to testify Wednesday during the emotional hearing. Attorneys opened the day by spending an hour apiece outlining their versions of what happened the night Love was found dead.
The stories on each side converged more often that not. Both tales included young people drinking to excess and passionately overreacting to each other's transgressions. But they split on two key points: the cause of Love's death and Huguely's motivation for going to her apartment shortly before midnight on May 2, 2010, just a few weeks before they were set to graduate.
Jurors will ultimately determine the truth of both matters after viewing evidence that includes Love's bedroom door, which Huguely is said to have kicked in. It was wrapped in brown paper and propped along a courtroom wall Wednesday.
Prosecutors described Huguely as a jilted lover, who couldn't control his drinking or his temper and who ultimately turned to murder for revenge. He got drunk and beat Love so badly, they said, her brain was bruised, then he tried to cover it up by stealing her laptop, which revealed a disturbing email trail.
"I should have killed you," said a late April message from Huguely, who wrote it after learning that Love had allegedly cheated on him.
"The reality is, the next time George Huguely saw her alone, he killed her," Chapman said.
Huguely's defense team countered with an image of an immature athlete, who never meant to harm anyone.
"George had no intent to do anything other than talk to her," when he went to her apartment, said attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence. He urged jurors to consider a verdict of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum prison term of 10 years, rather than first-degree murder, which Huguely is charged with. That crime carries a price tag of life.
"He's not complicated," Lawrence said of Huguely, now 24. "He's not complex. He's a lacrosse player."
Lawrence acknowledged that Huguely had physically battled with Love several months before her death but stopped short of calling it a choke hold, and he said there was violence on both parts.
"Both had folks they were hooking up with during the relationship, and it created drama," Lawrence said, arguing that the "first strike" — as in blow — actually came from Love, less than a week before her death, when she threw her purse at Huguely. At the time, she believed he had cheated on her, attorneys said.
Lawrence claimed that evidence would show that a combination of the prescription drug Adderall and alcohol contributed to Love's death, and that many of the bruises noted in medical reports were caused by rescuers, who spent a half hour trying to resuscitate the 22-year-old woman.
Love's sister, Lexie, wiped away tears as the attorneys spoke, and at times stared at Huguely. He sat passively throughout the proceeding, looking small despite his height — he's over 6 feet tall — in his oversized shirt and sport coat.
He's lost weight in the nearly two years he has spent in jail since his arrest.
Chapman began the prosecution's case by calling Love's mother to the stand. She asked for a box of tissues as soon as she sat, and spoke with a shaky voice. She described her daughter's love of lacrosse and her time on the women's team at U.Va.; Sharon Love made a point of visiting the games and keeping in close contact with Yeardley.
"I talked to Yeardley every day, every single day of her life," Sharon Love said. She quietly recalled a phone call from Yeardley before her death. The young woman wanted to see her mother, who met her in Annapolis, put her up for the night and drove her back to school the next day.