CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WTVR) – Closing arguments ended Saturday in the murder trial of George Huguely in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Huguely, 24, faces six charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with the death of Yeardley Love, his ex-girlfriend. Both Huguely and Love played lacrosse at the University of Virginia.
It took more than four hours to complete closing arguments in the George Huguely murder trial. Saturday’s trial proceedings had a strange pace. Counsel had a lengthy argument early on about the exclusion of a witness and then moved forward rapidly after the prosecution decided to call no rebuttal witnesses.
However, the pace and the intensity of courtroom changed dramatically with the start of closing arguments. Each side took as much time as they could to make a passionate plea to the jury, to see the case from their perspective. It was a long fought courtroom dual to try to influence Huguely’s fate.
Prosecutor David Chapman began by talking about the day of Yeardley Love’s death. He did so with a quivering voice.
“Yeardley Love made a decision that was life changing for her, her mother and her family. She decided to stay home,” said Chapman.
He continued by contending that Love should have been safe there — and that there was no medical or scientific evidence to suggest that when she went to bed — she would not awaken.
“If only Yeardley or her roommate would have locked the front door,” said Chapman.
He urged the jury to review the pictures in evidence of Love’s bedroom. Chapman noted that none of the items in her room looked disturbed, that there was no evidence of a struggle. He argued that because of the vast difference in size between Huguely and Love, she never had a chance to defend herself.
“Who wouldn’t crawl for help if they could?” said Chapman. “She was silenced early on and disabled.”
Chapman referenced the large hole Huguely kicked in Love’s bedroom door. He also noted that Huguely told police he had only gone there that night to talk to Love.
“What kind of a conversation starter is that?” said Chapman. “That’s the beginning of terror ladies and gentleman.”
He likened the act to a horror movie.
“You put your foot through a door and then reach your arm through and unlock it?” he said. “Can you imagine what that’s like for the person on the other side?”
Chaman also referenced two correspondences between the couple that the jury was able to read but the court was not able to hear aloud. The first was a letter from Huguely found in Love’s desk drawer. It was an apology note from Huguely for an incident that several witnesses testified to at trial. It happened in February of 2010, a few months before Love’s death.
At a party, Huguely had been interrupted while holding Love in a headlock while she screamed for help.
Chapman read part of the note in court.
“I cannot tell you how sorry I am about what happened Saturday night. I’m scared to know that I can’t control the way I act when I’ve been drinking. Alcohol is ruining my life. I assure you, I will never act that way again.”
The second exchange was the email Huguely sent to Love after she had sent him text messages about having a new sexual relationship with a lacrosse player in North Carolina. Chapman read the part from Huguely.
“I love how you don’t think you did anything wrong. You tell me you hooked up with Burns a week ago and then you go F- burns and say Burns can F- me better than you. I should have killed you,” said Chapman during the proceedings.
Chapman also pointed out that Huguely was not initially honest with police. On the interview tape, Huguely does not say up front that he kicked the door or that he stole Love’s laptop. He only later admits those details. Chapman then drew focus on the lies Huguely told his friends about where he had been that night.
“This lie was not inconsequential. It was in his self interest to do it,” said Chapman, “He couldn’t tell them where he’d been because of what he had done.”
Before his first closing, Chapman reminded the jury of the limits of Virginia’s intoxication defense to premeditated murder. It can only be used for murder in the first degree.
“Alcohol is not a defense to this,” he said quivering again. “People are to be protected at home in their bed.”
After a brief break for jurors, Huguely defense attorney Francis Lawrence began his closing by remarking on the lack of intent shown in the case.
“It wasn’t until thirty minutes in to his statements that we heard anything about intent,” said Lawrence. “They describe a tussle, a fall, but no intent to kill.”
Lawrence described the dramatic nature of Love and Huguely’s on-again off-again relationship. He said barging in to each other’s apartments unannounced was not an unusual occurrence. He said both were at times unfaithful.
“If there was a jilted lover in there, they both jilted each other,” he said.
He also likened Huguely entering Love’s apartment to the way she had entered his just a week earlier when she yelled about some visiting female recruits and hit Huguely with her purse.
“She got fired up and did a bunch of tequila and went down there,” he said of the incident.
Lawrence admits Huguely bears some responsibility for Love’s death. But he said the Commonweath has been over zealous in their inaccurate portrayal of Huguely.
“He is what you get, he’s a boy athlete,” said Lawrence.
He said Huguely’s behavior was “stupid drunk”, but not calculated.
“All the things that happened were not furtive, not stealth, not thoughtful,” he said. “It was stupid, unthoughtful, loud and clumsy.”
Lawrence remarked that the Commonwealth had changed its position on Huguely’s motive for stealing the laptop, saying first that it was to destroy emails and then in closing Saturday saying that Hugeuly stole it to prevent Love from communicating with Mike Burns.
Lawrence also mentions that Huguely does eventually tell police the truth and that his shock and disbelief is genuine upon hearing about Love’s death.
“This is a young man who has no clue,” said Lawrence. “He thinks that this is a routine investigation of an event.”
Lawrence pointed out that Love and Huguely were holding hands the night before her death, that they had shared an affectionate moment in the bar and that it appeared they were “on-again.” He then focused in on Huguely’s charges.
“Did he ever hurt her with the intent to rob her?” he said. “The answer is no, nothing could have been further from George’s mind.”
He said when Huguely left Love’s apartment she was still conscious and all he observed was a nose bleed. He reminded the jury that the defense’s theory is that it was Love’s alcohol consumption coupled with her injuries that might have caused the suffocation that killed her. He asked the jury to find Huguely not guilty of first-degree felony murder.
“Involuntary manslaughter requires your careful consideration,” Lawrence said.
Because of the Commonwealth’s burden of proof, they are given a brief rebuttal. Chapman took another hour. He explained that at very least Huguely knew he had injured Love badly.
And that in closing, the defense never explained Huguely’s lies about where he’d been that night. He asked the jury to make a careful decision.
“When somebody’s little girl doesn’t wake up because of someone else’s criminal behavior, the law is going to be followed in the city of Charlottesville,” he said.
Afterward, the judge asked the jury if they wished to start to deliberate or wait until Wednesday. They said they wanted to wait until Wednesday.
After another delayed start to trial proceedings, earlier in the afternoon, a medical witness was allowed to stand for the defense.
Controversy surrounded the testimony of Dr. Ronald Uscinski. The defense admitted making an error by exchanging emails with Uscinski and other defense witnesses about previous testimony given by the prosecution’s witnesses earlier in the week.
Uscinski, a practicing neurosurgeon took the stand around 11:30am Saturday. He would review photos and autopsy reports of Yeardley’s brain damage before the jury. Uscinski admitted that there was evidence of an impact injury.
“There were external injuries to the scalp, to the jaw and skin around the jaw, and the eye on the right side,” said Uscinski, “they were fresh and looked like they were the result of an impact.”
However, contrary to descriptions given by prosecution witnesses, Uscinski described Love’s brain as “relatively normal” and having “pretty unremarkable damage.
“There’s unquestionably head trauma but there’s not significant brain trauma,” he said.
Uscinski repeatedly mentioned the possibility that injuries to the back of Love’s head were a result of impacting with something hard like a solid wall. He also said Love’s areas of hemorrhaging were small and not significant.
Prosecutor David Chapman hit back hard on cross-examination, in fact conducting many of his pointed questions with an irritated and at times sarcastic tone. He began his line of questioning by showing Uscinski a brain image from a textbook of a brain injury caused by a speedboat hitting the victim’s head.
“Isn’t it true doctor that you can find fatal brain injuries that do not reflect gross distortions,” said Chapman.
The doctor acknowledged that the scenario was possible but was quick to point out that there are distinctions between the images of the boating accident injury and Love’s. Chapman fired back suggesting that the doctor left out such information deliberately when testifying to the jury.
“Why don’t you talk about that to the jurors without having to have it pulled out of you,” said Chapman.
The doctor again drew distinction. “This is not a massive brain injury,” said Uscinski.
Chapman then referenced Love’s hemorrhaging near the brain stem and highlighted that the stem controls vital functions of the body – and again the doctor refuted that significant trauma had occurred.
“If there was trauma here, you would see red blood cells all over the place,” said Uscinski.
Chapman moved close to the witness and turned his head to the side, “Do you know how much blood she lost,” he said.
“No, I don’t,” said Uscinski.
“You don’t?” said Chapman. “You didn’t look at the crime scene photos?”
Uscinski explained that blood at the scene doesn’t reflect bleeding in the brain. And that vital organs can remain alive once someone has been determined to be brain dead.
Chapman responded, “So she’s still laying there with her heart pumping to this day then is that true?”.
Chapman stayed on the offensive questioning the doctor about why he never wrote a report on his findings and suggested it was because Uscinski knew he could then be cross-examined about it. He also pointed out that the doctor had testified in several states as an expert witness over the past several months.
Uscinski also admitted that he had been paid a $2500 retainer for his testimony plus and hourly rate of $750 that has not been collected yet.
“It’s not something I do for money,” said Uscinski.
At the start of proceedings Saturday morning, an admitted mistake by defense counsel took up more than an hour of discussion. [CBS 6 reporter Catie Beck [Follow on Twitter] is providing updated trial coverage from Charlottesville.]
Outside the presence of the jury, the Commonwealth made a motion to the judge to exclude the defense’s upcoming medical witnesses from testifying in the trial.
Prosecutor David Chapman produced emails before the judge that had been exchanged by defense counsel Rhonda Quagliana of her medical witnesses during trial. The emails described previous testimony that was given by a prosecution medical witness last week.
Chapman argued this violated the rule of law that prohibits witnesses from having any knowledge of previous testimony in the trial.
“It is beyond belief that we are having to address this at this point in the trial,” said Chapman to the judge.
Fran Lawrence contended that the content of the emails would not influence the witness’s testimony and that allowing his medical opinions were critical to ensuring a fair trial for Huguely.
“We created this problem but now we have this young man on trial for his future,” said Lawrence.
He called the emails, “amazingly thoughtless but not calculated.” He also argued that then content of the emails about CPR and blood flow to the brain, would not be part of his testimony.
But the judge appeared mostly unimpressed by the defense’s explanation.
“This is very troublesome and I wouldn’t have expected this from you,” said judge Edward Hogshire, “I’m very disappointed in counsel.”
The judge then said that he would grant part of the Commonwealth’s motion by limiting the scope of the witness’s testimony. This would basically limit the doctor from discussing the specific content of the emails which would include any mention of CPR. A big point of dissension so far between both sides has been whether resuscitation efforts could have caused damage to Love’s brain.
The defense is only expected to call one witness Saturday. Then the Commonwealth will call several rebuttal witness.
Earlier on Saturday it had been said that if witness testimony had not concluded by 3 p.m., than the judge would plan to rest for the day and take up closing statements and instructions on Wednesday.
Huguely, 24, faces six charges, including first-degree murder, in connection with the death of Yeardley Love, his ex-girlfriend. Both Huguely and Love played lacrosse at the University of Virginia. [Read more about the case]