Virginia: Grand jury gets murder case in lacrosse slaying

By Zinie Chen Sampson

Associated Press

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- A grand jury will hear the case against a former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of killing a member of the women's team, a judge ruled on Monday after a nine-hour hearing.

George Huguely, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in the May 3, 2010, slaying of 22-year-old Yeardley Love in her Charlottesville apartment. After nine hours of testimony from about 20 witnesses, the judge determined that there was evidence for the case to move forward.

Huguely is accused of entering Love's apartment and slamming her head into a wall. She died of trauma to the head, authorities said. Huguely told police at the time that they had been involved in a relationship that had recently ended. Huguely has been in jail since his arrest and waived his right to appear at the probable cause hearing before General District Judge Robert Downer.

Besides murder, Huguely is charged with robbery, burglary, statutory burglary and grand larceny. The grand jury is scheduled to consider all six charges when it meets on April 18 and decide whether to indict Huguely and allow the case to proceed to trial, which officials say is likely.

Huguely's lawyer Francis Lawrence said he plans to show that Huguely had no intention of killing Love, and didn't even know she was dead until a detective told him. Lawrence also noted that his client has been cooperating with police since he was taken in for questioning after Love's body was found.

Defense lawyers and prosecutor Dave Chapman took turns questioning police officers, forensics experts and rescue crew members as well as roommates and lacrosse teammates of Huguely and Love over details about the case. Families and friends of both athletes sat in the crowded courtroom.

Caitlin Whiteley, Love's roommate and lacrosse teammate, testified that Love, who was from Cockeysville, Md., decided to stay home the night before the slaying, when Whiteley went out with friends to several nightspots.

She returned home with U.Va. tennis player Phillipe Oudshoorn about 2 a.m. on May 3, and noticed a hole had been punched through Love's bedroom door. She said Love was face down, her arms down by her side. Then she saw blood on the pillow and sheet. Oudshoorn testified that they both "started freaking out."

A student who lived in the apartment below told the court that she heard a loud bang, then heavy footsteps while she was studying on May 3. Anna Lehmann testified she looked out her ground-floor picture window and saw a man walking away from the building. She didn't see his face, but testified he was muscular and wore shorts and a blue shirt, similar to the clothing other witnesses had told police that Huguely was wearing that day.

Lead investigator Lisa Reeves testified that she videotaped an interview with Huguely, who was quickly identified as a suspect in Love's death. Reeves said he was calm and cooperative, and that he told her that he'd put Love's missing laptop computer in a trash bin at a nearby apartment complex. Police retrieved it there.

Several of Huguely's teammates recounted the team's final lacrosse game of the season, a senior dinner, and a father-son golf outing at Wintergreen, where the teammates noted that Huguely had started drinking heavily in the morning. The attorneys tried to get the men to recall certain details of that Sunday night, but some said they couldn't recall specifics.

Dr. William Gormley of the state's chief medical examiner's office detailed the injuries Love suffered, including hemorrhages under the eye and scalp and a bruised chin. He said that Love died from blunt-force injury to the head, and went over photographs with lawyers. Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliano questioned Gormley at length about the autopsy findings, including asking him about the lack of "grab injuries" to the torso or whether her death could have been caused by a fall.

According to search-warrant documents, Huguely had told investigators that he and Love fought on May 3, that it turned physical, and her head struck a wall several times.

Quagliano read a statement on Huguely's behalf in front of the courthouse after the hearing. She said Love's death was a "tragedy but not an intentional criminal act." She also noted that the preliminary hearing only was intended to determine probable cause and "the burden of proof is very low."

She said that the hearing did allow lawyers to clarify some misconceptions about the case that will be cleared up at trial, including what she called erroneous reports of damage to Love's apartment's walls and furniture. She also noted that the medical examiner on Monday began to acknowledge the complexity of the medical issues and questions about what caused Love's death.

Chapman didn't make a statement after the hearing.

Published: Wed, Apr 13, 2011