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Less than six degrees of separation in Huguely trial

Even by the admittedly low standards of such affairs, this was a college reunion filled with more than the usual awkwardness and the sense of an unrecoverable time.

When last they were together in May 2010, George Huguely, his fellow University of Virginia lacrosse teammates and the other friends, apartment mates and acquaintances in his small orbit were weeks from the end of a college year and, for some, graduation.

But on Wednesday, they were thrown together in a courtroom, where Huguely sat at the defense table, charged with murder, and his former classmates were called to the witness stand to testify against him.

Some did so more reluctantly than others; at least one spoke with hostility toward his former friend. Because, after all, some were also close to Yeardley Love, the Cockeysville native Huguely is charged with killing.

Chris Clements, for example, said he had known Love since middle school. "We're both from Baltimore," the St. Paul's School graduate said.

That lacrosse is a small, somewhat rarefied world is not news. The sport famously develops its talent at such private prep schools as St. Paul's, or Love's Notre Dame Prep, or Huguely's Landon School in Bethesda, and feeds them into lax powerhouses like U.Va.

But just how small a world it is has rarely been clearer than during this trial, filled as it is with teammates who not just played but grew up and lived together — in this case, a group of apartments on 14th Street near campus.

What price such familiarity?

The portrait that Huguely's one-time teammates and friends painted was pretty devastating, of an out-of-control and occasionally violent drunk, who would later confess to manhandling Love that night. But to testify to that two years after the fact raises an issue: Could they have done more then, or was it too hard to rupture such a small, tight world from within?

Or is it only with distance, of time or geography, that it's possible to see just how critically Huguely was spinning out of control, and with such terrible consequences?

The prosecution tried to make a point Wednesday of how one lax player, Ken Clausen, gave somewhat different accounts back then and now. When questioned by police, he apparently said that when he saw Huguely on the night of May 2, after he was at Love's apartment, he looked like "nothing had happened."

In court, though, Clausen said Huguely lied about where he had been and looked "blank" in the eyes.

He was among those who spoke fondly of Love, calling her a close friend. And, in fact, he served as one of the pallbearers at Love's funeral at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

He and others filed one by one to the witness stand to testify, with stories of a weekend that was marked with a sense of finality — the lax team's last regular game, a senior dinner at a posh inn and, on Sunday, May 2, a father-son golf tournament.

But if graduation, looming in weeks, is normally a time of celebration and looking forward, Huguely seemed to be sinking rather desperately. He and his father were fighting; he and Love were fighting. Teammates testified that he spent that Sunday in a growing alcoholic stupor, perhaps even drunk from the night before but in any event beginning to drink at 10 in the morning.

He drank several beers during the ride to the golf course, he put more beers in his golf bag, and drank afterward in the clubhouse and then at dinner, they said.

Mikey Thompson, a lax player dining with the group, said Huguely's intoxication was embarrassing. "We shorted our stay because of George's condition, and we wanted to get out of the public," he said.

And yet, Huguely kept trying to draw out the day and night, texting several women, and dropping in on pals including Clements, who, seemingly alone in not having had a single drink all day, was pulling an all-nighter for a paper due Monday.

At 2 or 3 in the morning, he noticed the flashing lights of the first responders to Love's apartment, also on 14th Street. He thought nothing of it, remembering that the neighborhood had been having a rash of fire alarm-pullings.

But several hours later, someone would knock on his door and tell him otherwise. It was Caity Whitely, Love's roommate and an alum of St. Paul's School. She was with a police detective and they needed to get into Huguely's apartment upstairs from Clement's.

He got the key he had, and, 20 minutes later, found out what happened to his childhood friend.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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