God sent a message to Father Joseph Scordo to go see Huguely in jail, the St. Thomas Aquinas priest testified.
"We fundamentally disagree with the sentence today," said defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana. "Mr. Huguely will appeal the sentence."
photo by lisa provence
His jailhouse pastor never saw any signs of violence. Neither did his aunt. And his uncle never saw any drinking. But after hearing from witnesses who did, the judge who oversaw the February murder conviction of former UVA lacrosse player George Wesley Huguely V went ahead and assigned most of the 26-year sentence recommended by a Charlottesville jury for the in-bed battering death of girlfriend Yeardley Love.
"Unlike Ms. Love, Mr. Huguely still has most of his life," said Charlottesville Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire, assigning the 24-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland, a 23-year active sentence.
In a brief filed a day before the August 30 hearing, defense attorneys Rhonda Quagliana and Fran Lawrence requested a maximum of 14 years. They pointed to "other cases" of second degree murder where sentences topped out at 15 years, despite the use of knives and guns to dispatch the victims and noted that the Huguely jury came above the midpoint in the state's voluntary sentencing guidelines.
"Their recommendation may be above the guidelines," said the judge, "but it's not that far above the guidelines."
Hogshire complimented the jury, calling them "smart people" who looked at the evidence and came up with the second-degree murder conviction and sentence. But he did not elaborate on his decision to reduce their 25-year-murder sentence by two years– other than to say this should be a guidelines sentence, which is 23 years– or his allowance to let Huguely concurrently serve the one-year sentence for grand larceny for taking Love's computer.
When Virginia abolished parole in 1995, it asked judges to adopt the voluntary guidelines to reduce racial and other disparities. For Hogshire to bend Huguely's sentence toward the guidelines suggests an effort to immunize the decision.
A reporter's calculator– meshing Virginia's rule that felons serve 85 percent of their sentence with Huguely's incarceration since the day he battered Love to death– posits a possible release date of November 20, 2029. Huguely would be age 42 and two months.
The court heard from various people who alleged prior acts of violence against men and women. Some of the accounts eerily presaged things that happened to 22-year-old Love, who died in her own bed on May 3, 2010, after Huguely, by his own admission, kicked in her door while she was sleeping.
There was a tale told by a former Huguely romantic partner, Stephanie Aladj, who recounted how a late-night walk among friends was suddenly marred by a spontaneous attack by Huguely on a male UVA tennis player.
And a young woman, who told her father that Huguely was drinking to excess, was accosted by an angry Huguely at Boylan Heights restaurant.
"He grabbed me with both hands around my neck," testified Claire Bordley. "Before anything escalated further, a bouncer came from a corner and escorted him out." (Trial testimony indicated that Huguely had angrily grabbed Love by the throat about two months before killing her.)
One of the final creep-outs was a nocturnal attack described by lacrosse teammate Gavin Gill. After getting romantically involved with Love, Gill found himself, he testified, awakened in his own bed by a furious George Huguely.
"George was on top of me in my bedroom," Gill told the judge. "I have a snapshot of seeing him over me, and I don't remember much after that."
Gill said that his facial wounds were so severe that the team doctor sent him to get a CT scan.
Defense witnesses, however, painted a more benign portrait of a suburban boy whose affability impressed his elders.
"George was an example of the kind of kid I wanted my son to be around," testified Bethesda doctor Henry Masur. "He was respectful. He was fun. He had integrity."
A Dominican priest at Charlottesville's St. Thomas Aquinas Church said God told him he had to go visit Huguely.
"The person the media describes is harsh and wild and out of control, but I never got the sense of that at all," testified Father Joseph Scordo, who said he has talked with Huguely across a glass partition at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail every week for a half hour the past two years.
"I want the truth; I want the truth," Huguely reportedly told the priest. "And I have a lot of hope in God."
Huguely might also want to assign some hope to the Virginia Court of Appeals because that's where his case is headed, according to the defense.
Yeardley Love's mother, Sharon, and sister, Lexie, issued a statement after the sentencing: "We find no joy in others' sorrow. We plan to work diligently through the One Love Foundation to try and prevent this from happening to another family."
Before sentencing, Huguely, who never took the stand at trial, broke his long silence with thanks to his own family and a short address to the grieving Love family.
"I am so sorry for your loss," Huguely told Love's mother and sister. "I hope and pray you can find peace."
–with additional reporting by Lisa Provence
–last updated 10:15am on September 2.