By STEVE SZKOTAK, Associated Press
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — In a trial that revealed the lives of elite athletes at a top-notch school, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player faces 26 years in prison for the beating death of his former girlfriend amid a swirl of betrayal, distrust, anger and a culture of drinking.
The prosecutor who meticulously and methodically constructed the case against George Huguely V in the May 3, 2010, beating death of Yeardley Love spoke glumly late Wednesday about a trial that put on display a much-diminished athlete and the horrific injuries he inflicted upon the young woman he professed to love. It played out before two families shattered by the experience.
"There's nothing to make good the terrible tragedy done to the Love family," prosecutor Dave Chapman said under an umbrella in a drenching rain outside the courthouse. "We hope they feel some solace."
Jurors deliberated about nine hours before returning a verdict on the murder count, then recommended that Huguely serve 25 years. The maximum prison term for second-degree murder is 40 years.
The 24-year-old defendant from Chevy Chase, Md., could have received a life term if convicted of first-degree murder. He also was found guilty of grand larceny, with the jury recommending one year in prison.
Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire set an April court date for sentencing matters before formal sentencing, expected to be held in summer. He is not bound by the jury's recommendations, but Virginia judges typically heed jurors' wishes.
Huguely was found not guilty of four other charges, including breaking and entering and burglary. Jurors could have returned lesser verdicts of involuntary or voluntary manslaughter.
Huguely, pale and 30 or more pounds lighter from his playing days on U.Va.'s nationally recognized lacrosse team, cast his gaze downward during sentencing as Love's mother and sister told jurors of their lives since Love's death.
Sharon Love tearfully testified that her daughter's death was an "unbearable" tug on her life. "Every year that goes by I'd like to know what she'd be doing now," she said.
Love's sister, Lexie, 28, described painful reminders of her kid sister's absence.
"A song will come on the radio and I'll just burst out in tears," she said, sobbing. Her sister's death, she said, "left a large hole and nothing will fill it."
In a statement, the Love family said the passing of time has not eased the sorrow of her loss.
"Our hearts burst with pride when we think of Yeardley's accomplishments but our hearts melt when we remember her kindness and grace," the Loves said in a statement.
The defense did not present any witnesses at the sentencing hearing. Members of the Huguely family declined to speak as they left the courthouse.
"No person is the sum of the worst decision he ever made," one of Huguely's defense attorneys, Rhonda Quagliana, told jurors before they began deliberating his punishment.
After comforting Huguely inside the courthouse, co-defense counsel Francis McQ. Lawrence said he was disappointed by the jury's verdict but said he was proud to represent Huguely "in his fight for fairness over the last couple years."
"He has the support of his loving family," Lawrence said, declining questions. "He's displayed amazing resilience and courage."
He added. "I think those in the courthouse saw his remorse during various times during the trial."
The verdict was returned to a somber courtroom. Huguely stood ramrod straight in an ill-fitting jacket, flanked by his attorneys, and appeared stoic as the verdict was read. Some sobs could be heard among the Love and Huguely families.
The jury of seven men and five women considered testimony from nearly 60 witnesses over nine days.
They had to decide whether Huguely battered Love to death in a jealous outburst or if his intent to talk with her spiraled out of control and she died accidentally. They also suggested her own drinking and a prescription drug used for attention deficit disorder could have contributed to her death.
Huguely killed Love, a U.Va. women's lacrosse player from suburban Baltimore, after a day of golf and binge drinking, incensed that she had had a relationship with a North Carolina lacrosse player, the prosecution said. Love's right eye was bashed in and she was hit with such power that her brain was bruised. She also had wrenching head injury that caused bleeding at the base of her brain stem.