Manslaughter at most? Huguely team files to set aside verdict
Attorneys for George Huguely filed a motion asking the judge to set aside Huguely's conviction for second-degree murder in the death of his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love, and grant a new trial. The lawyers listed nine ways they allege Judge Edward Hogshire erred in assuring a fair trial for Huguely, who also was convicted of grand larceny in February. The jury recommended a 26-year sentence.
How Hogshire handled attorney Rhonda Quagliana's stomach flu was one of the factors that she and co-counsel Fran Lawrence contend denied Huguely his Sixth Amendment right to counsel. Quagliana became "actively" ill February 16– a Thursday– in the middle of the two-week trial, and even though she ended up at Martha Jefferson Infusion Center on Friday, according to court documents, Hogshire refused to delay the trial.
The judge's insistence on maintaining a "break-neck schedule" meant Quagliana missed the testimony of some defense witnesses and "undermined her ability to present closing argument on sentencing and her standing before the jury." And by holding court on Saturday, according to the defense, the wretchedly ill Quagliana was unable to properly prepare.
The motion to set aside the verdict is an indicator of the intent to appeal, says Hook legal expert David Heilberg. "The defense needs to make a record of its objections."
He notes that courts are very reluctant to set aside a jury verdict.
"Broader Constitutional issues are harder to appeal," says Heilberg. "Smaller procedural errors on the narrowest possible grounds are best."
The 74-page filings also accuse Hogshire of botching jury selection by refusing to allow private questioning of individual jurors on the sensitive topics of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. In the middle of jury selection, he forced the defense to stop asking jurors if they would see unflattering evidence of Love's behavior as a "blame the victim" defense. According to Huguely's defense team, Hogshire should have struck seven jurors for bias.
The judge also refused to sequester the jurors, despite the unprecedented media attention to the case of the former UVA student.
"The Court erred in refusing the jury instruction proffered by the defendant relating to malice," another reason for setting aside the verdict, according to the defense.
"That's the kind of narrow ground that can work on appeal if the jury was improperly instructed and it resulted in a conviction," says Heiberg.
And Hogshire limited the testimony of neurosurgeon Ronald Uscinski about whether Love died from lethal brain trauma after Quagliana revealed she erroneously sent him emails about prosecution witnesses' testimony. Limiting Uscinski's testimony denied Huguely's Sixth Amendment right to present evidence, claim his attorneys, who also insist there's no evidence to disprove the theory that Love died from an accidental fall from her bed.
"It was clear from the evidence that Mr. Huguely should have been convicted of no more serious offense than manslaughter," concludes the motion.
And Huguely should not have been convicted of grand larceny, says the defense, because they presented an expert who said her laptop was worth less than $200, the threshold for a grand larceny change.
That argument is not likely to work on appeal, says Heilberg, if the prosecution presented evidence the laptop was worth more. Unlike initially, when a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, on appeal, "evidence is reviewed in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth," explains Heilberg.
"It's an uphill battle for the defense," he adds.
Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman has until June 8 to respond to the defense motions, and both sides will be in court June 29 to argue their motions. Huguely is scheduled to be sentenced August 30.