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Marbella: In Huguely trial, we hoped for truth but got only a verdict

By Jean Marbella, The Baltimore Sun

6:59 PM EST, February 23, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.

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— Outside the courthouse, the day went from spring-like sunshine and blustery winds to a dark night of cold, hard rain.

Inside, a jury plowed straight through a marathon day of deliberations Wednesday — nine hours to find George Huguely V guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny, two more to recommend he serve 26 years in prison for the death of Yeardley Love.

It was a workmanlike resolution to a case that had seemed like anything but, a compressed day of behind-the-scenes activity for a high-profile crime — the May 2010 murder of the 22-year-old Love, who grew up in Cockeysville and was fulfilling her childhood dream of playing lacrosse at the University of Virginia.

The case drew nationwide attention, for much the same reason other crimes similarly rise above the white noise: the youth and attractiveness of those involved, for example, or the supposed inside look it provided into the underside of privilege.

In the end, though, all of that seemed largely peripheral. We were distracted by the surface, and clueless about the core.

Like all too many other crimes, this essentially was about substance abuse that went untreated; in Huguely's case, what his own lawyer called "out-of-control" drinking. Add to that his immaturity, demonstrable anger issues and a stormy relationship with Love, and that proved to be an exceedingly volatile mix.

Trials prove irresistible to some, myself included, because they dangle the possibility of answers. That's not their primary business, but in the course of applying justice there is the promise of uncovering truth, specific to the case or universal.

It's probably too great an expectation for a courtroom, and so it was at the Huguely trial. Some of the pieces fit, and yet there were missing elements. The picture we were left with seemed sorely incomplete, because the defense continued its disappearing act to the end.

Huguely, as is his right, failed to take the stand in his own defense. It's a common enough decision, but the sentencing phase that immediately followed also was noteworthy for his absence.

In this second sort of mini-trial, lawyers on both sides can present witnesses and exhibits to sway jurors as they head back to discuss the level of punishment to recommend.

But only the prosecution chose to do this, entering documents related to Huguely's 2009 arrest for public intoxication and resisting arrest, for which he received a suspended sentence. After that, Love's mother and sister were called to the witness stand to speak about their loss.

The message: Huguely was lightly punished for the first arrest and look what happened — don't make that same mistake.

I wasn't surprised that the defense attorneys declined the opportunity to question Love's mother, Sharon, or her sister, Lexie. What could you possibly ask Love's stricken family, for one thing, and how do you avoid coming off as heartless?

But it baffled many that the defense declined to put any of its own witnesses on the stand to speak for Huguely. His parents might have given more dimension to the pale, thin defendant sitting mostly impassively through his trial. Others might have presented a different side to the angry, binge-drinking jock who was portrayed, sometimes by his own lawyers.

I guess I was hoping to see his parents explain where they were as their train wreck of a son was heading off the rails. Surely the drinking problem, and the issues with violence, didn't happen overnight.

But, of course, Huguely's parents weren't the ones on trial. And maybe such testimony wouldn't, or shouldn't have any effect beyond satisfying an observer's curiosity.

The verdict seemed in some ways a considered, middle-of-the-road conclusion. Second-degree murder was less perhaps than what the prosecution wanted, and more than the manslaughter that the defense had hoped for, although their recommended sentence tips toward the heavier end of the five- to 40-year range of punishment for that crime.

Huguely's lawyers expressed disappointment with the verdict, and said they'd seek "corrections" to it down the road. What these might entail remains to be seen, but then, in Huguely's case, correctives have never quite seemed to materialize.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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