George W. Huguely V arrives on decision day, Wednesday the 22nd of February.
Judge Edward Hogshire is pushing forward with a night-time sentencing phase, after jurors in the 2010 killing of 22-year-old Yeardley Love returned a conviction for 2nd degree murder Tuesday night.
The verdict came around 6:46pm February 22, after a trial that lasted more than two weeks. The jury additionally convicted the former lacrosse player Huguely of grand larceny.
Hook legal analyst David Heilberg pronounced himself unsurprised by the verdict which he said seemed to match the evidence.
"That's pretty consistent with what I expected," says Heilberg. "You have to look at circumstantial evidence. Breaking down the door and leaving her helpless until she died wouldn't be a manslaughter."
So why not first degree? "It just doesn't appear that they proved a specific intent to kill her," answers Heilberg. "It's just a harder burden."
As for the burglarly acquittal, Heilberg notes that the frustrated Huguely– who had been vexed in some romantic attempts during the preceding day– probably didn't arrive at Love's apartment with computer-stealing on his mind.
Heilberg adds that an intent to kill does not need to be present in order to gain a second-degree murder conviction. Instead, the intent the prosecution had to show was simply a the presence of "malice," which can be shown as a desire to maim, disable, disfigure, or kill.
They got that.
The maximum sentence for grand larceny is 20 years and for second degree murder 40 years.
First to testify in the trial's sentencing phase, which began shortly after 7pm was the mother of the victim. She broke down on the witness stand as she recalled the wedding and future conversations that were never to be. "I'm afraid," she cried, "that I'm forgetting little things about her."
"It physically hurts," sister Lexie testifies next. "I've never wanted to see anything as badly as to see her face again."
After the two family members of the victim spoke, the defense stuns the courtroom by revealing that it plans to call no witnesses. That's a huge surprise since both the mother and father of the defendant, on the expectation that they would be character witnesses, have been barred from the courtroom all week– unable to support their son with their presence. The father wasn't even present for the verdict.
Analyst Heilberg says omitting such good-boy witnesses actually makes plenty of sense as the jury already knows plenty about the defendant from his writings, his interrogation, and from his standing as a student-athlete. Hearing about his character could invite damaging rebuttal details from those who've been on the receiving end of Huguely's prior acts of violence, which include an alleged attack on a sleeping teammate and an infamous 2008 arrest in Lexington.
Courtroom observers couldn't help but notice at least four Huguely family members wearing ashen crosses on their foreheads in the traditional Christian gesture to mark Ash Wednesday, the first day of that pre-Easter period of denial called Lent, which coincidentally fell on the night their loved one was convicted of breaking the Sixth Commandment.
Next up was the prosecution which mentioned the priors of Huguely which included the 2008 double conviction for drunkenness and resisting arrest in Lexington. But it was May 3, 2010 that prosecutor Dave Chapman kept hammering.
"You can see from the evidence the horror," declared Chapman. "And you know that she lay there as long as two hours. Somebody's little girl didn't wake up."
By contrast, said Chapman, turning to the convict, "There's plenty that Mr. Huguely can do in the future. In the penitentiary, he can help people who haven't had the education that he's had. And he can help himself."
Echoing the theme that the jury knows best, defense counselor Rhonda Quagliana, emerging Wednesday fully recovered from a debilitating bout of a flu-like illness that delayed trial last week, delivered a plea for leniency.
"Nothing can eliminate the sorrow that's felt in this room," said Quagliana, pointing to a series of what she called "what-ifs": Huguely's drunkenness that began that day on a golf course, Love's friends coming home late, Huguely's downstairs friend who locked him out to write a paper.
"No person is the sum of the worst decisions he's ever made or the worst judgment he's ever exhibited," said Quagliana, then launching her alcohol defense without admitting to it.
"George's drinking was out of control," she said. "It's not an excuse; it's not a justification; it's just a fact."
For a man whose emotions thus far in this trial have been limited to rubbing his eyes while watching a recording of his infamous police interrogation tape, Huguely delivered some passion Wednesday night. He performed the Catholic sign of the cross shortly before the verdict was read. And although he betrayed little when the convictions were read, throughout the arguments in the sentencing phase, he stared at his hands.
"George is a 22-year-old guy immersed in a culture of sports, sex, and alcohol," said Quagliana. "Many of us look at the person we were at 22 with disbelief– How could I ever be that self-centered; how could I be that irresponsible?"
With that, the floodgates began opening, as Huguely began visibly crying. Quagliana subtly pushed the jury to picture themselves behind bars by discussing the passage of time– "day by day, week by week, year by year"– as her client buckled lower.
"You should vote with your conscience," Quagliana implored, reminding the jurors of Huguely's words in the interrogation: "She's not dead. She's not dead. Please tell me she's not dead."
At 7:52pm, Quagliana and co-counsel Fran Lawrence each offered a few consoling strokes on either arm of the formerly 209-pound lacrosse player, now reduced to a sobbing young man who is looking at the potential of decades behind bars.
Around 9:15pm, about the time that a steady downpour of rain began falling, the jury took delivery of some pizzas, an indication to many in the courtroom that this night is far from over.
At 9:59, the jury came back in to render its verdict: 25 years for the murder and one year for the grand larceny. While defense attorney Lawrence immediately asked for the verdict to be set aside as contrary to facts and law, analyst Heilberg had earlier noted that a verdict that acquitted on some charges and convicted on others stands a small chance of reversal by this court.
The parties will meet again in April to set a formal sentencing date. As the jurors left the building, each silently rebuffed the interview requests voiced by a horde of media standing under the brick portico to get out of the rain.
–This story went online the night of the verdict.
--original headline: Huguely convicted: Judge rushes sentencing after 2nd degree murder verdict
–story last updated Thursday at 7:36am with additional photos