Closing arguments: Intent and malice debated in Love's death
Attorneys in the murder trial of George Huguely made their final pleas to the jury to convict– or not convict so harshly– the defendant for the death of Yeardley Love after the defense rested around 2pm Saturday, February 18. During the roughly 90 minutes each side spent, the prosecution hammered home the brutal attack on Love when she thought she was safe at home, and the defense argued that Huguely had no intent to murder Love or to steal her laptop– the taking of which added five additional felony charges to the first-degree murder charge he's facing.
Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman was practically weeping as he faced the jury and began to lay out his case.
"On May 2nd, 2010, Yeardley Love made a decision that was life changing for her, her mother and her sister: She decided to stay home," said Chapman. "She lay down to sleep. She made a choice to stay in the safety of her home," he said with his voice wavering.
Chapman noted how locked doors could have changed the course of events that night: "If only Yeardley or [roommate] Caity [Whiteley] had locked the front door," he said. Later, he mentioned Huguely's downstairs neighbor, Chris Clements, who had locked his door to keep the drunken lacrosse player out because Clements had a paper to finish. "If only Chris Clements hadn't locked his door," lamented the prosecutor.
Perhaps most damning, said Chapman, was Huguely's decision to lie to his friends after he came back from Love's apartment, and said he'd been drinking downstairs with Clements and another friend. "Why in the world would George Huguely lie to them?" he asked.
Defense attorney Fran Lawrence suggested that Huguely was not truthful to his friends because of the recent, tumultuous nature of Huguely's relationship with Love, including her coming to his apartment at 2am April 28 and hitting him with her purse. But Chapman would return in his rebuttal to Huguely's lie about his whereabouts that night.
According to Chapman, taking the computer was a way for Huguely to control Love in an abusive relationship. She'd lost her cellphone on the night of the purse smacking, and the laptop was the only way for her to communicate with a lacrosse player at Carolina, Mike Burns, with whom she'd hooked up and had taunted Huguely that Burns was a better lover. And days before her death, Huguely sent her the email that said, "I should have killed you."
Chapman also accused Huguely of lying in his interview with police on the morning of May 3 when he told the officers Love had opened the door for him, that he hadn't threatened her, and that he hadn't taken anything from Love's apartment.
"At the end of the day, he tells the truth about the door, and he tells the truth about the computer," Lawrence responded.
Chapman did note some truth in Huguely's interview when the defendant said Love was freaking out. "You bet she was freaking out," he said, after Huguely put a hole in her bedroom door.
As the jurors grimly looked on, the prosecutor displayed photos of Love's injuries– the abrasions on her chin, her swollen eye, the marks on her right wrist– which he said told the story of how Love tried to get away from Huguely. "You can see the evidence on her face and inside her mouth," he said. "You can see it in the brain injury she received. She was incapacitated."
When a 6-foot, 200 pound Division 1 athlete throws Love, a 5'4" woman "weighing little more than 100 pounds," on the floor, said Chapman, "the floor doesn't give." Lawrence later noted that Love weighed 117 pounds.
To convict Huguely of first-degree murder and its life sentence, Chapman needs to convince the jury that Huguely's behavior was "willful, deliberate and premeditated" when he went to Love's apartment, kicked in her door, and assaulted her. And in Virginia, willful intoxication is never a defense for a crime– except for first-degree murder.
But should the jury decide Huguely's actions weren't premeditated, Chapman reminded them of another charge in which his drunkenness doesn't matter: murder in the commission of a robbery.
He also noted that if the jury found no premeditation but found malice in Huguely's actions, they should return a second-degree murder conviction."If you're a 200-pound Division 1 guy with your arm wrapped around a woman driving her face into the floor, isn't that malice?" asked Chapman. "Alcohol is not a defense to this," he added.
When defense attorney Lawrence began his at-times rambling close, he'd already had a rough day that started with being chastised by the judge for his partner, Rhonda Quagliana, improperly contacting witnesses about prosecution witnesses' testimony.
Lawrence held up a sketch of a rabbit to the jury that somehow was supposed to illustrate reasonable doubt, and said if they have two different interpretations of a sketch, they should pick the one with the better outcome for his client.
And he pooh-poohed Chapman's notion that Love was a victim of domestic violence, and that Huguely had taken the laptop to control her, reminding them that the commonwealth's attorney previously had said the laptop theft was a deliberate attempt to hide the threatening emails. "Now he's going with felony murder because he knows there's no intent to kill," said Lawrence.
The soft-voiced attorney is not one for raising his voice in court, but, in his closing, he raised it a notch: "The Commonwealth is ZEALOUS in this case," he said, "and we respectfully submit, overzealous," perhaps referring to multiple charges piled on Huguely.
Said Lawrence, "George bears responsibility for her death. It's never been our position that he doesn't." And he drew an objection from Chapman when he said that Huguely's "sadness for Yeardley is completely real."
Lawrence described the 14th Street neighborhood where Love and Huguely lived as "almost a twenty-something ghetto" with lots of attractive people, jilted lovers, and "lots of drama."
In that world, he said, there was nothing strange about going over to each other's houses late, which Love had done when she showed up at Huguely's apartment at 2am when he had two high school students there, which resulted in the purse-smack incident. And Lawrence pointed out again that the only time anyone had gotten hit in that relationship, it was Huguely.
As for the "I should have killed you email," said Lawrence, "It's hyperbole."
Lawrence was not flattering toward his client, calling Huguely's actions "stupid and drunk, but not calculating." And he repeatedly stressed that Huguely had no intent to kill Love.
According to the crib-death defense, Love died from positional asphyxia, suffocating face down in her pillow. "Yes, George contributed to her death, but he didn't kill her," said Lawrence. "He left there and she was alive– there's no dispute."
In his pitch that the jury consider involuntary manslaughter, Lawrence reminded them that Huguely left his dying girlfriend thinking she just had a nosebleed. "Is that gross disregard for human life?" he asked.
And while the prosecution contended that Love was unable to move when Huguely put her face down in the bed, said Lawrence, "We submit she got into bed on her own." And none of Love's blood was found on Huguely, which Lawrence called a "big fact."
Admitted Lawrence, "It probably was not a healthy relationship. But it was not a turbulent, domestic-violence relationship." Love was not afraid of Huguely, he insisted.
Chapman had the last word, and told the jury, with his voice raised, that second-degree murder doesn't require intent, but does require malice.
Absence of malice– and drunkenness– were what got former UVA student Andrew Alston a voluntary manslaughter conviction and three years in prison rather than second-degree murder when he stabbed unarmed 22-year-old firefighter Walker Sisk 18 times in 2003.
"When someone's little girl doesn't wake up from criminal behavior, the law is going to be followed in the city of Charlottesville," said Chapman.
And when Huguely kicked down Love's door, allegedly to talk, Chapman asked, "What kind of conversation starter is that? It's the beginning of terror. It's unimaginable to think what that woman went through."
When Chapman finished around 7pm, the jury had had enough. They'll reconvene Wednesday, February 22 to begin deliberations.
Barely had the online version of this story hit the internet when Hook legal analyst David Heilberg chimed in with a prediction that a second-degree murder conviction now seems most likely. Heilberg defended the embattled defense counselors by pointing out that the expected conviction will stem primarily from Huguely's "serious homicidal misconduct" with secondary factors being "family dysfunction and failed intervention."This story is a part of the Huguely trial coverage special.Read more on: George Huguely