CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. — — George Huguely V received a 23-year sentence Thursday for the murder of Yeardley Love, the Cockeysville native and University of Virginia lacrosse player whose death in May 2010 put drinking and domestic violence in college towns, even one as genteel and historic as this one, under a harsh spotlight.
Huguely, 24, will receive credit for the two years and three months he has already served and, with good behavior, could reduce the remaining time by as much as 15 percent. With Virginia a no-parole state, he could be in his early 40s when released.
Love's mother, Sharon, and her sister, Lexie, declined to speak to reporters after a hearing in which both sides presented witnesses speaking to Huguely's character. The prosecution portrayed him as an excessive drinker with several prior incidents of violent behavior, while his defense put on the stand family members and a priest who described him as a loyal, caring, spiritual member of a close-knit family.
"We find no joy in others' sorrow," the Loves said in a prepared statement issued after the sentencing. "We are relieved to put this chapter behind us. … We would like to thank everyone for showing us such kindness during the most difficult time of our lives."
Lexie Love, who is planning to marry next month, wept as prosecutor Warner "Dave" Chapman urged Charlottesville Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire to sentence Huguely to the 26 years in prison recommended by a jury that convicted him of second-degree murder in February.
"The most important presence at her daughter's upcoming marriage is going to be the absence of Yeardley," Chapman said, choking up as he referred to Sharon Love, sitting in the front row behind him with her sisters, Lexie and other family and friends. He went on to quote a survivors' impact statement by Lexie Love: "The maid of honor will be missing."
Huguely spoke briefly, his first public statement since he was arrested shortly after Love's battered body was found in her apartment just weeks before she was scheduled to graduate from U.Va., the school she had long dreamed of attending and playing lacrosse for as a student at Notre Dame Preparatory School. The two had a turbulent, on-and-off relationship, and, after a full day and night of drinking, Huguely kicked in Love's bedroom door. After a physical altercation, he left her bleeding in her bed, where her roommate found her.
"Mrs. Love and Lexie, I am so sorry for your loss," said Huguely, wearing baggy, striped prison attire, his hands in cuffs. "I hope and pray you find peace." Then, turning to those sitting behind him, his voice cracking, he said, "I want to thank my family and friends for your support."
Huguely's attorneys vowed to appeal his conviction for second-degree murder and grand larceny, as well as his sentence.
"We think George was convicted of a crime inconsistent with the facts, and he received a penalty inconsistent with what the evidence would require," Rhonda Quagliana said. "Our system provides that a single person or a single group of people are not the final arbiters. We are confident that a mature and careful consideration of this case will result in the reversal of these convictions and that the correct outcome of this case will eventually be reached."
Quagliana and Fran Lawrence, Huguely's other lawyer, argued that the 25 years for second-degree murder and one year for grand larceny recommended by the jury was excessive. They pointed to sentencing guidelines that show the more typical sentence for second-degree murder is 14 to 23 years. Jurors were not given the sentencing guidelines during their deliberations.
Chapman argued for the jury recommendation, which by law Hogshire could reduce but not increase. In addition to sentencing him to 23 years for the murder, the judge ruled a one-year sentence for larceny would be served concurrently. After his release, Huguely will also serve three years' probation during which he will not be allowed to possess or drink alcohol.
"The judge made some adjustment," Chapman said after the sentencing. "He otherwise nearly without modification affirmed the judgment of the jurors. I think together they may have gotten this case right."
Still, he said, despite all good intentions, there can never be more than an "approximation of justice." Chapman said there's no getting around the permanent sadness of a life cut off at age 22.
"All I see is loss," he said of Love's murder. "It'll be there forever."
Huguely's family declined to comment as they left the courthouse but issued a statement, saying that they "love George and will always support him."
"Yeardley will always be in our hearts," the statement said. "We hope and pray that the passage of time will bring some semblance of peace and healing to each and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy most especially the Love family."
With a new academic year beginning, the sentencing hearing returned to the forefront a crime that brought tabloid headlines and much soul-searching to the university, an elite public college founded by Thomas Jefferson and a point of considerable pride in the state. Troubling details emerged of a culture of excessive drinking and casual hook-ups, and of Huguely's previous violent incidents, including one in which he beat a sleeping teammate after learning he had gone home with Love after a party.
Gavin Gill, who played lacrosse at St. Paul's in Brooklandville and then at U.Va., testified uncomfortably about the incident Thursday, put on the stand by Chapman to show that Huguely had a history of violence. At a party in the spring of 2009, Gill said, Love told him she and Huguely had broken up. They left the party and went to her apartment, where Gill said they had some "intimacies" before he returned to his own place. There, he awoke to Huguely punching him in the head and face, severely enough that the lacrosse team doctor thought he should have a CT scan.
Although the lacrosse coach, Dom Starsia, learned of the incident and met with the two players, Gill said, he assumed some of the blame because he sensed that the couple really hadn't broken up.
"I wanted to make it clear to our coach that I was in the wrong as well," Gill said. He said he and Huguely apologized to one another and were more concerned that the incident not affect the team.
The beating was among the "warning calls" that Chapman said should have been heeded. A woman also testified that Huguely grabbed her by the neck at a Charlottesville bar after she told her father, Huguely's lacrosse coach at his high school, the Landon School in Bethesda, that she was concerned about his excessive drinking.
After the hearing, Chapman appealed to college students "to recognize in their friends problem behaviors like over indulging in alcohol.
"Act," he said. "Act now."
During the hearing, Huguely's lawyers presented family members, friends and a Catholic priest who has been visiting him weekly during the past two years. To them, he was not a drunken, aggressive lacrosse player but someone who was happy, good-natured and always made time for his younger cousins, relatives in trouble and his grandparents. His friends and family also submitted letters on his behalf.
"As the eldest of the cousins, he always looked out for all of us, and has been especially protective of the girls," wrote Christina Taylor, a cousin. He even acted as a "mediator" in parent-child tiffs, she added.
Chapman said Huguely could still do good in prison, and upon release will still be relatively young. But he denied Love her chance to grow old, he noted.
Chapman said it was difficult to see all her former classmates returning to testify in the trial and realizing that Love would never move to New York or start careers the way they had. "That's what we're missing," he said of the loss of Love. "I know that she is a person of a background and level of achievement that she would have been successful at whatever she would have done."
Instead, he said, hers will be a posthumous contribution.
"It's so sad, but in death, she's making a contribution to understanding about domestic violence," he said. "And in death, she focused attention here on the issue of alcohol and domestic violence."