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.
Sharon Love did not describe what shook her daughter then; Chapman had outlined the event during his opening statements.
It wasn't enough to end the relationship, however, which continued its on-and-off pattern. In late April, Love learned that Huguely was seeing a former girlfriend and grew distressed, testified Kaitlin Duff, a roommate. Love confronted Huguely at his apartment, after drinking, and threw her pocketbook at him, spilling its contents, lawyers agreed.
The email exchange followed.
"A week ago," Huguely allegedly wrote, "you said you would get back together with me if I stopped getting so drunk, then you go and" get intimate with another man. "I should have killed you."
Love replied: "You should have killed me? You're so [expletive] up."
Huguely responded: "We should talk tonight."
He next saw her alone on May 2, 2010.
Chapman recounted Love's final day through witness testimony.
Love had gone to lunch with her roommates that Sunday afternoon, and the trio of best friends chatted about their summer plans. They returned to their off-campus apartment on the 200 block of 14th St. in Charlottesville in mid-afternoon, then left again, after doing some school work, for a friend's birthday celebration.
"There was alcohol consumed in significant amounts ... by all who were involved," Chapman had said during opening statements. They returned about 10 p.m. and made plans to go out again, but Love eventually decided against it.
"She said she had a lot of work to do the next day, and she was tired," Caity Whiteley, who lived with Love and Duff, testified.
Whiteley said goodbye to Love about 10:50 p.m. It would be the last time she saw her alive.
A woman who lived in the apartment unit below them, Anna Lehmann, would later tell police that she heard a crash and heavy footsteps.
"I thought that maybe like a stereo set had fallen or a bookshelf," she testified Wednesday. "It was very loud."
Chapman said earlier that the noise Anna heard was "an assault taking place," specifically Huguely's right foot busting through Love's locked bedroom door.
Huguely "had been drinking virtually nonstop since early that Sunday morning," Chapman said, and he was worked up by that night.
Lawrence said his client simply wanted to make up with Love, and went there with that in mind, but she resisted. They fought, and he took her computer as collateral, thinking she would have to talk to him then, Lawrence said.
Huguely was in Love's apartment for roughly 10 minutes that night, according to the downstairs neighbor, who said she saw him leave. Evidence will show that Love survived for nearly two hours after the encounter, Chapman said.
Whiteley got home about 2:15 a.m. May 3. She had a friend with her, and wanted to wake Love. She went into her room.
Love was "facedown on her pillow and underneath her comforter," testified Whitely, who touched Love's shoulder, then pulled back her hair. "And that's when I noticed," Whitely said.
There was blood on Love's sheets and her pillow, and cuts on her face.
"She wasn't moving," Whitely said.
Medical examiners would later discover that Love's brain was bruised, Chapman said, as was an area in her neck connected to her carotid artery. There were black-and-blue spots on her limbs, and Huguely's DNA was under her fingernails, the prosecutor said.
Huguely, meanwhile, was in his own apartment in his room. He had returned about midnight and told his roommate he was at a neighbor's house, which was discovered to be a lie, Chapman said.
Hours later, Huguely would tell police that he had been at Love's.
Testimony will continue Thursday in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks.