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A fleeting moment amid the turbulence

Yeardley LoveJustice SystemGeorge Huguely V

His aunt called him Georgie. A high school student he helped when she was temporarily stranded on campus said he was "perfectly nice."

And as seen in a video from Saturday, May 1, 2010, Yeardley Love chatted with his family as she held his hand.

This was the image jurors left court with on Friday, the day before lawyers were expected to turn the case over to them for deliberation: George Huguely, in the embrace of his family — and his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Love.

But jurors also took something else with them — the knowledge that about 24 hours after this warm scene, Huguely would kick a hole in Love's bedroom door and they would fight. Her roommate would find her a couple of hours later, bloodied and beyond resuscitation, and Huguely would be arrested and charged with murder shortly thereafter.

It is a startling leap, from hand-holding one night to violent death the next. But of course, it is not an impossible or even a particularly rare one, considering how many killings over the course of human existence have involved spouses, lovers and other intimates. And yet there was something shattering about seeing it unfold in the context of this case.

Young women who appeared to be friends of Love were tearful outside the courtroom Friday after the video was played, sharing tissues and hugs. Neither they nor the other spectators could see the footage — the screen on which exhibits are displayed faces toward the judge and jury and away from the audience — and anyway, given that it came from a bar's security camera, it was probably a grainy blur.

Still, it was hard not to realize: This was likely among the last recorded images, if not the very last one, of Love alive.

After two weeks in which she has often been depicted forensically, the subject of autopsy reports and pathologists' findings, the presentation of Love as a living, breathing young woman seemingly at peace with Huguely was welcome, yet heartbreaking.

The video was played during the testimony of Huguely's aunt and godmother, Alina Massaro, who said she had brought her family down from Pittsburgh in 2009 to see one of Huguely's lacrosse games and met Love when they all went out to dinner.

"She sat down next to the kids," she recalled. "She was really kind to the kids, and sweet."

Massaro's family visited again for Huguely's lacrosse game on May 1, 2010, just weeks before he and Love, herself a lacrosse player, were scheduled to graduate. Other witnesses have described this weekend as one in which Huguely seemed to drink nonstop, culminating in the fight in Love's bedroom.

But in Massaro's telling, the time she spent with Huguely and Love that weekend was a pleasant one. She was asked to narrate the video for the jurors and sounded like any aunt describing vacation pictures to someone who doesn't know everyone in it.

"This is my daughter Olivia," "This is my daughter Sophia. ... Georgie is right around here. I think he's making his way over to where Yeardley was," Massaro said as the video played silently and, to most in the courtroom, invisibly. "Here's Georgie. It appears he's reaching over. ... Still can't see Yeardley. She's in a black-and-white striped shirt, a tank top.

"There's Georgie. There's Yeardley," she concluded, "and they're holding hands."

For all the poignancy of this scene, it may well prove to be just a passing vignette to the jurors, something that seems to speak to the nature of the couple's up-and-down relationship but ultimately has nothing to do with what happened 24 hours later.

Still, I found it a telling and even familiar moment, a reminder of how many, if not most, relationships fail to follow a straight line. There are breakups and makeups, laughter amid the tears, truces on the battlefield. Yet, most of the time, everyone survives, their hearts maybe bruised but still beating.

Maybe it was simply the moment for Love, seeing Huguely's family again and remembering an earlier, easier time in their relationship; maybe she didn't want to put their troubles on display in front of them. In the end, we'll never know what she was reaching for when she took his hand.

jean.marbella@baltimoresun.com

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