Reporters discuss details of George Huguely trial and verdict

Feb 23, 2012

Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V was convicted of second-degree murder Wednesday and sentenced by a jury to 26 years in prison.

Chat with Post reporters Jenna Johnson and Mary Pat Flaherty, who covered the trial, as they discuss what it was like in the courtroom, the trial details, verdict, sentence and more.

Ask questions, give your opinions, and discuss what happens next.

Hello everyone. Thank you so much for following our coverage of the George Huguely V trial. Mary Pat and I were at the courthouse late into the night yesterday, as the jury came with its verdict (guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny) and sentence (26 years). We're ready to hear your questions about all aspects of this trial...

(Producer)

The reporters are having a little trouble with their internet connection at the moment.  They will be answering questions shortly, so please stay with us! We're sorry for any inconvenience.  Thank you.

What is your take on the "culture of sports, sex and alcohol" at UVA that was exposed by the defense? How do you feel that contributed to Yeardley's murder? What do you think UVA should do to dismantle that culture?

Alcohol was at the heart of this trial and it was frequently discussed by witnesses. Pretty much every college in the country has students who drink -- and students who really drink, consuming more than six beverages at a time.

A survey of U-Va. students in 2010 found that on a typical Saturday night, 29 percent of U-Va. students don’t drink, 34 percent have one to three “standard drinks,” 18 percent have four to five, and 20 percent have more than six.

It's difficult to change that culture. The University of Virginia has bulked up its alcohol education and prevention programs, with a special focus on those heavy drinkers and training "bystanders" to intervene. Administrators were proud to say that the number of ambulance calls were up last year -- meaning that students are getting their friends the help they might need.

What was Huguely's demeanor after the jurors read the verdict?

Huguely and his attorneys stood as the judge read the verdict. He looked pale, more pale than we have ever seen him. He was stoic as he heard the news -- there was no outburst of emotion.

When he returned to the courtroom for sentencing, he looked frazzled. His hair was messed up, like he had been running his hands through it.

Afterwards, one of Huguely's attorneys came outside to spoke with reporters. He described the 24-year-old as having "displayed amazing resilience and courage" during the trial.

With a 26 years sentence how long before this guy is eligible for parole?

Good morning --Mary Pat here.  And a candid Mary Pat--I am not certain of how long since I don't know enough about Virginia good time credits and how Huguely's nearly two years served waiting will be credited.

I trust however that we have some smart Virginia lawyers or corrections folks out there who can say what the answer is. 

George Huguely took the computer obviously because it had evidence that he had threatened to kill Yeadley. He had just brutalized her and it seems obvious that he had the awareness to try and hide this evidence of intent. Do I have the facts wrong here? Why doesn't this show he was trying to cover something up and clearly was aware enough to think it through (mitigate the alcohol)?

Back in 2010, Huguely told police that he took the laptop as "collateral" so that Love would contact him the next day. His attorneys fought any assertion that he took the laptop to destroy emails -- pointing out that you can access email accounts from any computer.

What do you think of UVA giving Starsia a new contract that came to light during the trial because of a FOIA request from a WP sports reporter? What do you think of no one in UVA Athletics being held accountable? Think about Penn State. Think about the Lacrosse scandal at Duke. Think about murder vs. molestation vs. prostitution. Why does Starsia get a new five-year contract? Why does AD Craig Littlepage still have his job?

For those who missed that news, here's the link: Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia signed new five-year contract in January

Back in 2010, athletic department leaders and coaches told the media that they had no idea that Huguely might be a threat -- and that if they did, they would have intervened. It wasn't until after Huguely's arrest that they say they learned about a 2008 incident in which Huguely had a drunken confrontation with a female police officer in Lexington, Va., and was tasered.

 

1. Besides her sister Lexie, did Yeardley have any other siblings? 2. Does Mr. Huguely have any siblings?

Yeardley Love had one older sister, Lexie, who turned 28 the same day that she testified. George Huguely has one younger sister.

What was the mood of Huguely's parents at the sentencing? Any more thoughts on why they did not testify? How did they treat the defense attorneys?

Huguely's Dad was not in court after the initial jury selection and it was thought that was because he was going to testify at the sentencing as a witness.  But he wasn't in court last night that we saw, either. His Mom was there and she was very reserved, a little wet-eyed  but to my mind she also was strong and did not weep--again that I saw.

And since other chatters also asked, let me say that the defense team did not take questions and made only a brief statement after the sentencing phase so we don't know why Huguely's parents weren't put on to speak about him. 

Speculation here on my part but it could have been that there was too much risk that would say something inadvertently (that he had also been a great son, never been a troublemaker or something like that) that could have allowed prosecutors to come back and present one of the several rebuttal witnesses they still had under subpoena.  Two of those, I know from past reporting, had had run-ins with Huguely in which he was combative including a police officer who arrested Huguely in 2008 on a public intoxication charge and resisting arrest and had to Taser him to arrest him, court records showed.

Opening the door on something like that would not have served his cause.

Did the families of Huguley and Love ever interact? Did they even look at each other? How did each family react to the verdict? I'm curious, because I'm sure the mothers new each other, were maybe even friendly before this.

Not that we saw. Love's older sister sat in the front row every day and stared Huguely down with an icy glare. Huguely's parents were both in the courtroom for jury selection. His mother returned the day the video of his police interview was shown and yesterday. We did not see his father again.

In May 2010, Huguely's mother, Marta Murphy, sent us a lengthy statement that read, in part:

"As a mother, I never expected to be in a situation like this. Though my pain is great, it will never come close to the anguish felt by the Love family. Along with my family, I am devastated and confused. We are all trying to understand and cope as best we can."

(You can read the full statement here.)

Was there any attempt by the defense to show that George had a terrible drinking and anger problem, and those around him did nothing to help?

They definitely made the case for his drinking problem, bringing several of his former teammates to the stand to describe how his drinking had become excessive and was spiraling out of control. Some of his closest friends even discussed staging an intervention. At sentencing, one of Huguely's attorneys pointed out that Huguely had written in a letter to Love that, "Alcohol is ruining my life," which she said was the first step toward getting help.

As far as having an "anger problem," one of Huguely's attorneys disputed that, calling Huguely a "stupid drunk" who made bad choices when intoxicated. He said Huguely was uncoordinated and "goofy," but not aggressive or dangerous.

Prosecutors, of course, argued just the opposite.

I didnt see anything mentioned about Yeardley's father. Is he alive?

He died when she was in high school. At his funeral, Love placed a lacrosse ball in his casket.

Reports of a "young woman" crying as the Huguely family left the court room. Was this his sister?

I'm not sure. Several young people sat on Huguely's side of the courtroom and left the courthouse sobbing. It was a very emotional evening for those on both sides of the courtroom. One young girl who looked like she was around 10 was wailing, clutching the adults around her. We're guessing these were relatives of Huguely, but we do not know.

Any indication any evidence will be made public, i.e. Huguely interrogation tape? Thanks for the coverage.

Be still my heart, dear chatter, you have touched on something that has been a particular aggravation to me. 

The Washington Post and two other media outlets last year had to go to court to compel prosecutors down here to release the returns on search warrants filed in the case showing probable cause for arrest--and won the case that they had been improperly sealed under law.  We had stories on this that we can try to link in.

The refusal to share what are commonly public records has continued and with other media including some of the TV folks, we have been fighting behind the scenes during the trial to get those out--futilely.

The judge adoptet d a "media plan" for Huguely trial that originally said evidence would be released when jurors went out to deliberate. That was modified to say evidence would be released (a pretty common SOP) after the jurors were released and verdict.

Well, here we sit and nothing is forthcoming from what I know as of Thursday morning. Indeed, our folks who handle such matters for us have been told the judge plans a March 16 hearing on whether and when to release evidence.

So, while I clearly have a dog in this fight, I also want to note that until the evidence is out no one in the public can know what material in full led to the conviction--and that had broad implications for anyone who goes into open court accused of a crime and anyone who watches the conduct of courts.

During the trial, there was a TV monitor positioned away from spectators that only lawyers and jurors could see on which the attorneys ran the video statement that Huguely gave police (audio could be heard by us) and on which they projected but did not always read aloud the varisou text messages, IMs and emails that prosecutors contend show Huguely was menacing.

As I said, you touched a nerve with this question.

We are approaching 11 am, but since we got a late start we are going to keep going until at least 11:15 or so. Thank you kindly for all of your thoughtful questions thus far!

How did Huguely react when his old roomates/team mates testified? What was that interaction like in the courtroom?

For most of the trial, Huguely sat and stared ahead -- including when his former roommates, teammates and closest friends were on the stand. (Wednesday was the first time we even saw him wave to his relatives sitting in the courtroom.)

This trial was a tragic reunion of sorts for lacrosse players who graduated in 2010 and returned to their college town to testify. I saw many of them sitting together in the courtroom, talking during breaks and hanging out in the evenings.

I've been surprised not to see pictures of Love & Huguely together. Were any shown at the trial?

A video that showed them together the night before he went to her apartment played to the jury (monitor was turned away from us). It was shot at a local restaurant/bar called Boylan Heights that we wrote about as a veritable character in this sad case. Huguely and Love were there and held hands at some point, according to Huguely's aunt who was at the same event and narrated the tape for jurors.

The defense said the tape showed them in an affectionate mode. Prosecutors said that tape was the public face of Huguely in a setting with relatives and that his next act the one that led to his conviction.

I was in a blue collar, almost entirely male bar in Edgewater, MD last night after Huguely was convicted but before his sentence was announced. Their howls of outrage were completely disconcertinhg (and I, too, am a blue collar male). Sure, it's too bad she died, but she gave as good as she got. Heck, she attacked him a few days ago. She cheated on him and was just as drunk as he was, or she would have been able to defend herself. Etc. etc. etc. It truly made my blood run cold. I paid my tab and left but am still shaken by the experience.

Thank you for sharing. I am interested in hearing what the reactions have been in your communities (and neighborhood bars) to the verdict.

Is it true that Huguely is out on bail pending appeal now?

Not true -- he has been in custody since May 3, 2010.

It seems the judge rushed the jury to finish their sentencing recommendation by 10 p.m.  Why would he do that, if you also think that is the case?

I don't think I agree that they seemed rushed in the end and here is why. They ordered in pizzas for dinner at sometime after 9pm as I recall --and after what was at that point a VERY long day for them without any breaks--so I think that were allowed their own pace.

 

Did the Judge seem to rush the Jury to decide the sentance in 2 hours. This seems unfair given the gravity of their recommendation

The jury spent about nine hours deliberating their verdict -- which is usually what takes the longest amount of time. Sentencing often takes much less time to decide.

Huguely wrote to Love that he knew he had a problem and alcohol was "ruining his life", yet in the months between sending that letter and the murder, he took no steps to get treatment. Had he done so, Love might still be alive. After his first attack on her, he clearly was a violent drunk. By not seeking treatment, was it not inevitable that there would be another violent attack? How is that not premeditated first degree murder??

Passing along this comment....

So we all know that this goes on, and has gone on for decades. Is this just an intractable problem, or should parents, friends, coaches, whoever - done more to pull these two apart, shake them by the shoulders and say "hey!" what's going on? It just seems so tragic and yet (in some ways) so preventable.

Days after Love's death, thousands of UVA students gathered for an emotional vigil. Then-President John Casteen told the crowd:

"Take something away from this event. Take with you the determination that you will speak up for yourself, that you will act when you see or hear about abuse or violence in the world around you... Seek the support that belongs to you, because you belong to us. Demand and expect support, respect, and assistance when you do that. Help your friend in the same way if she (or he) needs help of the same kind. Don’t hear a scream, don’t watch abuse, don’t hear stories of abuse from your friends — and keep quiet. Speak out. Find me; I will go with you to the police."

Why did the defense lawyers not put George Huguely on the stand? Also, do you know why his parents did not testify on his behalf in the sentencing phase of the trial?

Defendants aren't under any obligation to testify and in this instance, Huguely told his story through a videotaped statement he voluntarily gave to police after waiving Miranda on morning of his arrest.

That video could cut both ways obviously since Huguely put himself at Love's apartment kicking through her door and fighting with her, and leaving her injured and bleeding.

But he also sounded genuinely shocked--to me anyway--when he was told she was dead.  It was a keen. And it took him a good long time to recover his breathing and stop wailing.

Nothing he could have said on the stand could have been as raw and powerful--and plenty he could have said and been asked about could have gone bad.

The article says the judge can accept or reduce the sentence. What is the timeframe for this? Any precedent that the judge would change the jury's recommended sentence?

Judges nearly always accept the jury's recommendation. They have the power to reduce the sentence, but not to increase it. A sentencing date has not yet been set.

On reflection, one question is: how does an apparently lovely, smart young woman end up with a loutish, belligerent, slur-prone, oft-drunk, and (now we know) murderous guy? Or how did she not separate herself from him? It seems from what we read of Huguely's past, it's not like his behavior was unknown to those who knew him. It seemed an unfortunate pairing, and now a entirely tragic one.

They dated on and off for about two years in college. During their last semester, they clashed repeatedly. Days before her death, Love emailed Huguely and wrote, in part: ""I have no desire to talk to you in person."

"His attorneys fought any assertion that he took the laptop to destroy emails -- pointing out that you can access email accounts from any computer." Obviously not true. Otherwise why did the prosecution have to go to the trouble of extracting the email from her computer to present it as evidence?

Detectives also extracted it from servers for the university's e-mail system and Huguely's Blackberry.

If that's his argument, how does he explain throwing it in the trash?

Huguely never fully explained this to police. His attorney said in closing arguments that if Huguely showed up at his apartment with Love's laptop, he would yet again have to tell his friends about more "drama" between him and Love.

agree with previous comment. not knowing about previous arrest is not sufficient reason. These coaches see these guys almost every day, they talk to them, they are huge role models. If they didn't know drinking was a real problem with Huguely, they should have. They should be talking to these guys, both individually and as a team.

Passing along this comment...

Why wasn't this issue brought up? It appeared the two had a combative relationship. I am surprised how alcholism is portrayed. I have seen drunk men and women and I am not sure how any drunk would be able to literally beat someone to death. Drunken rage vs domestic violence what is the difference Yeardly is dead.

Domestic violence was brought up, although more so during closing arguments than during testimony. The prosecutor described Huguely has a controlling abuser who wanted control over Love and took her laptop so she could not communicate with others. The defense flat-out said during closing that while Huguely and Love's relationship was not healthy, "she was not the victim of abuse."

I am sickened by this verdict. How can the jury ignore this painfully manifest pattern of intimidation, threats and physical violence? He STOLE her computer! He bashed her head in! He refused to call for an ambulence (oh right, he "thought she was okay" even though she was unconscious and bleeding). He'd continually threatened her and *acted* on those threats! He'd shown numerous, numerous examples of being a violent thug (attacking his sleeping roommate, etc.). What is wrong with this jury? How can they ignore what he did to this girl literally HALF his size? This just seems really off. You don't "accidentally" BASH someone's head in--that takes a while. I'm sick.

I am passing along this comment....

Did his attorney really suggest this, knowing he was speaking about a lacrosse player at the one of the top programs in the country? If so, I think there are grounds right there for inadequate representation.

Uncoordinated and clumsy -- while drunk.

Did it ever come out in court how Huguely got into Ms. Love's apartment? Did he let himself in? Did she answer the front door? The only thing I ever read was about him breaking into her bedroom...but never an explanation of how he entered the apartment.

The front door was unlocked. According to his police statement, he then knocked on her bedroom door and she refused to let him in. Huguely says he then kicked through the door so he could reach inside and undo the latch.

Love's shattered bedroom door sat in the courtroom behind the prosecution, not far from the jurors, for nearly all of testimony.

There was discussion that George Huguely's parents would testify at the sentencing hearing, but they did not.  Do you know why?  Was that a surprise given that they did not attend the trial due to the anticipation that they would testify at sentencing?

It was a surprise to us, too, as we had been told that both might take the stand at some point. I do not know why they did not testify.

Can the judge's verdict be appealed?

Yes. And Huguely's attorney told reporters late last night that he was "disappointed" with the verdict: "We look forward to correcting what happened here tonight."

Why is the national media focusing so heavily on this case? What is the draw to justify so many articles, updates, and analyses of a relatively-garden-variety murder case? It seems there are much more significant news-worthy events to cover than a messed up college romance.

I think we focused on it for the same reason you're spending part of your day here on this chat. It is sad and interesting for many different reasons to many different people.

Some of those reasons certainly have to do with the parents and families who can find themselves in the case and yes that means they identify in ways that they may not with the many other people horribly killed and horribly scarred by the murder of their loved ones.

Do I identify with big redheads faster than short blondes? Pittsburghers faster than Green Bay-ers? Sure I do, since I bring my experience to things.That doesn't mean I can identify with others too, especially if I can have someone help identify our shared humanity ...which wouldn't, say, allow for the notion that a murder can be "garden variety."

I agree there are many stories to be covered and we cover many speaking personally and collectively as The Post.  This was a story that captured people's attention and we covered it.

 

 

I understand Hugueoly's lawyers made a big-time blunder by sending prospective witnesses emails containing expert testimony that had already been presented. Any reasonably competent first year criminal procedure studeht knows that this is a no-no. Some commentators believe the additional evidence may have softened the case against him. Doyou agree?

It caused testimony of one expert to be limited to areas that weren't disclosed by the "substance" of those emails and that cannnot have been the original plan when that expert was lined up.  Having said that though, that witness was good and feisty on the stand and certainly asserted the defense position even if constrained in what he could say.

Jenna, I know you've written a little about this before on your blog, but in light of the guilty verdict, what does this mean for how campuses will deal with abuse? I graduated from college last year and in my four years I don't ever remember abuse prevention/resources being brought up by my school and I have no idea if they were even provided. Do you think this case will lead to meaningful change or will colleges just provide lip service to stopping abuse?

U-Va. administrators have told me that Love's death was a wake-up call that there were problems with the system that needed to change. One such change: At the beginning of each school year, U-Va. students have to complete an online form to report any criminal arrests.

The dean of students, police officers and other officials say they are now getting more phone calls from students, faculty members and others who are concerned about a friend, student or co-workers and want to get them help.

Is that lip service? Have things really changed? I do not know.

Something that I've been wondering while following this trial: how is "Huguely" pronounced?

OK, I am taking this as my last question. I so appreciate the many many of you who posted and apologize that we couldn't get to you all.

Huguely sounds like "Hewg-lee."

Yeardley-for another chatter who asked--is "Yard-lee."

And although no one asked, Flaherty has no "g" sound in it.

Thanks again.

I'm the mother of three college students so see a lot of kids who drink too much and am wondering how much you think George Huguely's excessive drinking stood out among his peers and if it's typical that what seems to me to have been an obvious problem is essentially ignored by everyone around him on campus.

Many of the former U-Va. students who took the stand testified about their own drinking. This seemed to be a crowd that drank fairly regularly -- and yet they were worried about Huguely's "out of control" drinking. They talked about getting him help, but that didn't happen.

A lot of college students drink, but there is a different between having one or two beers -- or more than six. Next time your kids are home, ask them how many drinks they have on a typical night out. Sometimes simply counting  can help students gauge their drinking and that of their friends. And if your son or daughter mentions to you a friend's drinking problem, encourage him or her to contact the student affair's department or substance abuse prevention center for guidance.

Thank you everyone for all of your questions today. I am sorry that we did not get to all of them. Mary Pat and I enjoyed reading your thoughts and sharing what we know.

And thank you for following the Post's coverage of this trial.

In This Chat
Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson writes about college students and campus trends for the Post. She also runs the blog "Campus Overload," which chronicles national college news, drinking fads, admissions buzz and the latest exploits of Hill interns.
Mary Pat Flaherty
Mary Pat Flaherty has been with The Post since 1993, working as an editor and as a reporter on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has been recognized with awards that include the Pulitzer Prize.
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