Appeal granted: Huguely gets hearing on possible trial errors
Three years ago, lacrosse players George W. Huguely V and Yeardley Love were getting ready to graduate from the University of Virginia. That plan changed early May 3, 2010, when Love was found facedown in a pool of blood on her pillow in her 14th Street apartment. Now, on the anniversary of her death, Huguely sits in Keen Mountain Correctional Center serving a 23-year sentence for second-degree murder and waiting to see if an appeals panel will grant him a new trial.
A judge in the Court of Appeals in Virginia last week granted part of Huguely's petition on the grounds that his right to counsel was violated when his attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, became ill during the February 2011 trial and Judge Edward Hogshire "forc[ed] him to proceed with trial in the absence of his retained counsel of choice," according to the appeals court decision.
The filing also noted that the Charlottesville Circuit Court judge erred by refusing to strike a juror whose answers "revealed serious doubts about her impartiality."
That's the good news for Huguely. The bad news is that the appeals court review denied the majority of his claims of court error, including that the evidence was insufficient to support a second-degree murder conviction, and that the jury was improperly instructed on the definition of malice.
The judge noted an email Huguely sent two days before Love's death in which he said, "I should have killed you."
"The record has ample evidence of [Huguely's] malice toward Love," wrote the unnamed judge, who also points to an earlier February 2010 incident in which Huguely held Love with his arm around her neck, and his kicking in the door to her bedroom. "The injuries alone speak to the brutal force appellant used and demonstrate a purposeful willful, cruel series of intentional acts likely to cause great bodily harm," said the appeals court– enough to support a second-degree murder conviction.
The appeals judge also nixed arguments that Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman should have told Huguely that Love's mother was planning a civil action against him (and indeed, Sharon Love filed a $30-million suit against Huguely shortly after the murder trial), that the jury should have been sequestered, and that the defense should have been allowed to ask potential jurors "blame-the-victim" questions.
During his trial, Huguely was represented before by Quagliana and Fran Lawrence. For the appeal, he's hired a high-powered, out-of-town team: former United States solicitor general and appeals expert Paul Clement in Washington, along with Richmond lawyer Craig S. Cooley, who represented D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo in his capital murder case.
“We are delighted that the Court of Appeals granted our petition for appeal," said Clement in an April 26 statement. He said he was hopeful the appeals court will order a new trial, and "... [T]he Court of Appeals’ action underscores that there are serious issues about whether George received a fair trial that complied with his constitutional rights."
"In a case as significant as that, it's not surprising to me that the Court of Appeals would identify one or more issues to consider," said Commonwealth's Attorney Chapman, who prosecuted Huguely.
The attorney general's office will handle the appeal, and both sides have 14 days to challenge the decision.
"You can't attribute any significance on the granting of an appeal," says Hook legal expert David Heilberg. "The court may have granted it because those were the two most interesting points. In particular, the issue of denying counsel– I've never heard of that in Virginia."
Adds Heilberg, "Appellate courts in Virginia tend to uphold verdicts."
Correction 5/1: Huguely is serving a 23-year sentence, not 26 as the story originally said. A jury recommended a 26-year sentence, which the judge reduced to 23 years.Read more on: George Huguely