Charlottesville's media director Ric Barrick deals with the gaggle of press.
A jury selection in the first-degree murder trial of George Huguely V began Monday, February 6. The Hook's legal analyst, besides noting that this is the biggest career moment for the lawyers involved, ventured a guess that the 24-year-old defendant won't leave court a free man. More on that below.
While the jury selection process wasn't set to start until 9:30am, Huguely bypassed the phalanx of media by arriving well before then in a law enforcement van. Also arriving long before session were the mother and sister of slain lacrosse player Yeardley Love, dropped off in the back parking lot of the Charlottesville Circuit Courthouse.
The last of the major players to arrive was the legal team of Fran Lawrence and Rhonda Quagliana, who made the three-block walk from their Park Street office to the Charlottesville Circuit Court around 8:45am.
It was a tedious first day in court on Monday as judge Edward Hogshire began winnowing his pool of 160 jurors down to a manageable level– 12 official jurors and three alternates– with several prospectives dismissed by noting that they've already formed an opinion about Huguely's guilt, with several saying they'd keep an open mind, and some surprising the gallery by saying they'd never before heard of the case.
Both sides of the courtroom were filled with family members– with Love's mother and sister notable in pink apparel, seemingly a symbol of the One Love Foundation, established in the wake of the young woman's May 3, 2010 death.
As for Huguely, he looked smaller and thinner than previous photographs indicated. A buzz haircut evident in one oft-seen mugshot has been replaced by a stylish trim, and prison stripes have been replaced by a business suit that seemed to swallow the former varsity lacrosse player who once stood 6'2" and weighed 209 pounds. He stands accused of brutally beating and killing the much-smaller Love in her 14th Street apartment.
One prominent exile from the jury pool was Albemarle County Planning Director Wayne Cilimberg, who revealed a family connection to defense attorney Lawrence. Another man, describing himself as a Certified Public Accountant, made little headway when pleading for an exit due to the press of tax-prep season. The judge seemed unmoved until the man revealed that he'd already formed an opinion– dismissed!
"The lawyers are bending over backwards to get a fair jury," says Hook legal analyst David Heilberg, who slipped inside to watch part of the proceedings. "One bad juror and you have a hung jury."
As for the outcome, Heilberg figures there will be a conviction.
"It's all about the intent the Commonwealth can prove: first- or second-degree," predicts Heilberg. "I don't think it's going down to manslaughter, but maybe there's some big revelation the defense can't tell us yet."
–with additional reporting by Courteney Stuart, edited for print publication at 11:44am Tuesday, February 7. Original headline: "Opening day: Lawyers, media gird for trial of a lifetime"