Kaitlin Duff and Caity Whiteley, Love's roommates and lacrosse teammates, both took the witness stand February 8.
Huguely has slimmed down since his 2010 arrest.
pool photo by Daily Progress/Sabrina Schaeffer
After getting taunted as a less-talented sex partner than a rival lacrosse player, George W. Huguely V sent on-again/off-again girlfriend Yeardley Love an email that he may live to regret: "I should have killed you."
However, the first airing of that potentially damaging message in Huguely's first-degree murder trial did little to deter the defense theory, which began unfolding Wednesday after nearly two years of speculation. Defense lawyer Francis McQ. Lawrence says his client's actions amount to nothing worse than involuntary manslaughter.
"We think some of the injuries happened in a fall on the floor," said Lawrence. "Everything about her horrible injuries was unintended and unexpected."
After the Commonwealth of Virginia detailed a night of heavy drinking, a kicked-in bedroom door, a stolen computer, and a victim who allegedly languished in bed for up to two hours before finally expiring from the effects of blunt-force trauma, Lawrence dismissed the cause-of-death allegation and described "terrible, terrible, terrible coincidences."
Conceding that his client's actions "contributed" to Love's death, Lawrence announced that he would provide experts to show that Love died from "positional asphyxia," a kind of accidental death that has been associated with babies smothered in cribs, mental patients squeezed by restraints, and skiers trapped in avalanches. As for the blood that pooled in Love's brain, Lawrence blamed that on 30 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
"This is a shattering tragedy," acknowledged Lawrence, who– like the prosecution– spent about an hour delivering his opening arguments for the 14-person jury in Charlottesville Circuit Court on the morning of February 8.
"There are pieces of the Commonwealth's case," Lawrence acknowledged, "that are powerful: Yeardley's dead, there's a hole in the door, and Yeardley's computer is gone. But I think you'll see from the evidence the whole story."
For the Commonwealth, the story is clear. Huguely began filling with rage when informed that University of North Carolina lacrosse player Mike Burns– a young man who'd allegedly caught Huguely putting Love in a choke-hold just two months earlier– was better in bed.
"Then you go f*** Burns," fumes Huguely in an email transmitted just two days before before the fatal encounter. "That is so f***ed up on so many levels."
The prosecutor said Love described and even showed the email to friends and teammates. A Fairfax detective was allegedly able to salvage the deleted document after authorities retrieved Love's computer in the dumpster just off 14th Street, the University-area road where, in adjacent buildings, both Huguely and Love lived.
As prosecutor Dave Chapman recalled the events of May 3, 2010, Love's mother and sister, seated at the right front of the courtroom, reacted with tears.
Chapman said that Love's roommate Caity Whiteley had returned to their apartment a little over three hours after going out. Returning with a young man she didn't know too well, and wanting Love's presence, she knelt on the bed and tried to waken her friend around 2:15am.
"There was no reaction," said Chapman. "And then she moved Yeardley's hair, and she could see blood on the pillow and a very ugly and visible injury to her right eye. It was among the least of her injuries."
Noting that Huguely had initially downplayed the encounter as mere "wrestling," Chapman detailed a litany of wounds including body bruises, facial abrasions, torn mouth tissue, and the big one: brain contusions which caused so much internal bleeding that the state medical examiner blames it for shutting down her body's ability to breathe and pump blood. And there was another thing, Chapman noted in his calm– and at times understated– presentation: "His DNA was under her fingernails and hers under his."
Hook legal expert David Heilberg was in court for Chapman's opening statement. "I thought Dave covered the opening very well, very factually," he says. "He said she may have been alive for a period of time and couldn't move. That was highly effective."
Lawrence, however, suggested that blunt force trauma doesn't tell much as a cause of death. And from the lack of blood found on Huguely's clothes and the few spots found in her bedroom, "Yeardley could have moved three times," says the defense attorney.
Throughout the proceedings, the defendant, dressed in a dark blue sport coat and tie, showed no emotion.
His lawyer said that Huguely's then-impending appearance in an hour-long police interview video would show that he had no idea that Love could have died from his actions. Instead, Lawrence suggested, Huguely's actions stemmed from so much alcohol that in the hours leading up to the incident he swung and missed a golf ball at Wintergreen Resort and later spilled a bottle of wine at the C&O restaurant.
"George is really not capable of maintaining a lie," said his lawyer. "He's not complicated. He's not complex. He's a lacrosse player."
A large contingent of Love supporters overflowed the three rows reserved for them on the right side of the courtroom. During the two-day jury-selection process, pink was worn by Yeardley Love's mother, sister, aunt, and others on that side of the room, perhaps symbolic of the One Love Foundation set up in Yeardley's memory. On Wednesday, however, aqua seemed to be the theme for at least a handful of women there.
However, Love's mother, the first witness called to the stand, was dressed in black with a chunky gold necklace. She said she talked to her daughter every day and described driving down to Charlottesville one spring Sunday to retrieve because Yeardley was "shaken," or upset.
After he asked how she found out about her daughter's death, Chapman put a box of tissues on the witness stand.
Love's sister Lexie, wearing an aqua coat, glared at Huguely as she walked to the witness stand to testify about arriving in Charlottesville after learning of her sister's death and about their cousin, Mary Ryan McChesney, who helped pack up Yeardley's belongings. McChesney testified about flying in from Massachusetts with her mother, Sharon Love's sister, Debbie McChesney. When she went over to Love's apartment, the roommates were there. "Their moms were packing up their stuff," she recalled.
The next three Wednesday witnesses were women who had lived at 222 14th Street, the apartment building that Love had planned to inhabit until her graduation. These women, living in places like Houston and New York, have moved on into post-graduation life.
Anna Lehman lived below the female lacrosse players who occupied apartment #9 and mentioned that noise had been a problem. "You could here people walking around upstairs," she explained. "You couldn't hear conversations, but you could hear yelling."
Lehman was studying in her living room that fateful night, and she heard footsteps go upstairs, and then a really loud sound above her.
"I thought maybe a stereo had fallen, or a bookshelf," said Lehman, who noted that about 10 minutes later, around 11:50pm, she saw a large guy in a blue t-shirt walk by.
Love's roommates Kaitlin Duff and Caity Whiteley both played lacrosse with Love and each described her as "my best friend."
Duff, who's from Bethesda, had known Huguely since middle school. She called Huguely and Love's relationship "on and off" and also was aware of Love's friendship with UNC lacrosse player Burns.
The three roommates were having lunch at Coupe DeVille's restaurant on April 27, 2010, with two tennis players, one of whom mentioned that Huguely had been been hanging out with another girl. "[Love] seemed very upset," said Duff.
And when the women's lacrosse team was in Chicago a few days later, "We were talking about the letter," said Duff, referring to the "I should have killed you" missive.
Lawrence quizzed both Duff and Whiteley about how much Love had been drinking at the Coupe DeVille's lunch and at Boylan Heights May 2, the night of her death.
"She was drinking shooters," Lawrence reminded Whiteley with transcripts from her previous testimony about the lunch. Whiteley estimated Love had four drinks on May 2.
"I said that she wasn't so drunk," said Whiteley. "She didn't seem crazy, out of control."
When Whiteley returned to the apartment around 2:15am May 3, she was with tennis player Philippe Oudshoorn, and said she went into Love's bedroom first. "I remembered she didn't have a shirt on," recalled Whiteley.
"She was sleeping under the comforter," recounted Whiteley. "I shook her shoulders. I was kneeling on the bed. I moved her hair. I saw blood on her sheets and face."
At that point, Chapman offered tissues again, as Lexie Love wept in the first row.
Updated 8:10pm by Lisa Provence with details from the first witnesses called in the trial. Also updated a few hours later to change "sat" to "knelt" to describe roommate's position toward bed and changed "three" to "two" days to more accurately depict interval between salacious email and fatal encounter.
Updated Feb. 9 with additional witnesses.