The task for both the prosecution and the defense was to piece together a story about how Love and Huguely got to that point.

Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman chose to build a case around multiple charges, including first-degree murder, which suggested Huguely plotted to kill Love; felony murder, which meant he killed her while committing a robbery; robbery; grand larceny; and two burglary counts.

"It all amounted to nothing, all the other [charges], the robbery and the felony murder. ... They were dismissed," Goodman said. He views the charges as piling on in a push by the prosecution to get Huguely to accept a plea deal.

Instead, they might have nudged him toward a trial, knowing those charges might appear disingenuous to a jury.

Huguely ultimately was convicted of grand larceny for taking the computer and second-degree murder, which assumes he did not set out to kill Love, but that he did commit a crime and act with malice toward her, resulting in her death.

"From the beginning, the defense needed to establish that Mr. Huguely didn't have an intent to kill, and they did that," said Chris Leibig, an Arlington defense attorney who watched much of the trial.

That makes a second-degree murder conviction a victory for the defense in some ways, lawyers said. The first-degree and felony murder charges carried potential life terms, and the lesser conviction is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.

But Lawrence and Quagliana had argued in favor of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum term of 10 years. To get that, they would have had to show that Huguely acted out of passion and in the heat of the moment rather than ill will.

"The real gray area of the case was between second-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter," Leibig said.

He commended the prosecution for driving home the point that a reasonable, nonmalicious person would not have reacted as Huguely did.

Goodman criticized the defense for failing to counter that adequately. The "focus probably needed to be clearer," he said, with more emphasis on the "hot-bloodedness of the defendant's feelings."

He and others were reluctant to second-guess too much, though they shared a genuine surprise at one aspect of the case.

After the verdict, jurors moved into a second phase of the trial to recommend a sentence. They heard emotional testimony from Love's mother and sister, and then nothing from Huguely's side. His parents were widely expected to testify and had been excluded from watching the trial because of their role as potential witnesses.

"I absolutely expected at the very least" his father would testify, Goodman said, noting that Huguely had been drinking with his dad that day, and instead of reining him in, he had allowed his son to "go off the cliff." Goodman said Huguely's father could have taken the stand and said, "I share some of the responsibility. I should have been a father and told him that this is not the way to conduct yourself."

Huguely's father did not attend court after the verdict, though the defendant's mother appeared for the sentencing recommendation phase.

Heilberg said not putting defense witnesses on the stand might have been a strategic move. If defense lawyers put on "good-boy evidence," it would have opened the door for the prosecutor to contradict it, he said.

"That could have done more harm than good," Heilberg said.

Chapman was allowed to tell jurors of Huguely's prior convictions — for resisting arrest and public drunkenness — during the sentencing proceeding, but not to offer any details about the incidents, including information that Huguely had threatened to kill a female officer.

That would have changed if witnesses portrayed Huguely too favorably, lawyers said. Chapman then could have presented evidence showing otherwise.

The sentence recommendation, 25 years for Love's death and one year for stealing her laptop, was harsh by some standards and lenient by others, attorneys said. But most saw it as fair. A young woman is dead, at her ex-boyfriend's hands.

Still, Huguely's attorneys have vowed to ask for a reduction at a final sentencing hearing, which likely will be held this summer after a hearing in April to set the date. A priest has visited the young man in jail, as has a psychologist, Goodman said, which could indicate that the defense plans to submit evidence about Huguely's state of mind. His parents could decide to testify then, as could Huguely.

Whatever the final sentence, Huguely is likely to serve about 85 percent of it, if he gets time off for good behavior. Virginia does not offer parole.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

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