Only the jurors know the full details from the trial of George Huguely, the UVA lacrosse player on trial for the murder of his former girlfriend, fellow UVA lacrosse player (and graduate of Baltimore’s Notre Dame Prep) Yeardley Love. Starting today, those seven men and seven women (two will be dismissed as alternates) will deliberate until they reach a verdict. Will they find him guilty of murder, which may find him facing a maximum sentence of life in prison? Will he get off scot-free? The answer is probably somewhere in the middle; our speculation below.
- Not guilty. No one — not even Huguely — is arguing that his actions didn’t result in Love’s death, so the odds that he’ll be found not guilty of all charges seems very slim.
- Involuntary Manslaughter. In the videotaped statement that Huguely gave police in 2010, right after the night in question, he seems genuinely shocked and remorseful when he hears of Love’s death. This suggests that he hadn’t meant to kill her, and didn’t have a sense of how badly he had hurt her. If the jury can be convinced Love’s injuries are a result of Huguely being “a stupid drunk” who went to her apartment just to talk to her, not to hurt her, this is a possibility. If the jury finds that this was indeed an unintentional, reckless killing, the maximum sentence Huguely will face is 10 years.
- Second Degree Murder. But remember that Huguely kicked Love’s door down to get into her room, which sets a violent tone to the incident right from the start. (On the videotape, Huguely initially lies about this, but admits it when pressed by police.) Huguely admits that he wrestled with Love, that her nose bled, and says that he shook her. If the jury finds that Huguely intentionally beat Love (which seems to me the most likely case), second degree murder is a likely charge; the sentencing guidelines call for 5 to 40 years.
- First Degree Murder. The difference between second- and first-degree murder hinges on premeditation. Did Huguely go to Love’s apartment with the intent to hurt her? Consider the kicked-in door, but also remember that Huguely was very drunk at this point, which (lawyers argue) compromised his ability to make any sort of premeditated action. The prosecution is arguing that an earlier email from Huguely to Love in which he says he “should have killed her” (he’d just found out that she’d cheated on him) implies premeditation; defense lawyers say it was just a bit of youthful hyperbole. The sentencing guidelines for first degree murder call for 20 years to life.
- The Robbery/Larceny Factor. When Huguely stormed out of Love’s apartment, he took her laptop with him. If the jury finds that this was a premeditated action — that Huguely broke into Love’s room to hurt her, and knew that he needed to take the laptop to hide evidence — then this counts as a felony murder, which calls for 20 years to life. If, on the other hand, the jury decides that the taking was an impulse or a drunken afterthought, the charge of grand or petty larceny (depending on the computer’s value) applies… adding zero to 20 years, depending.
As you can see, the sentencing guidelines mean that Huguely could face anything from nothing to life in prison. And we probably won’t know the details of his sentence for another few months. Under Virginia law, jurors return a verdict, and then hear more arguments from defense and prosecution before deliberating over a sentencing recommendation. The recommendation gets turned over to a judge, who can approve or lower the sentence, but not raise it.
Personally, I think the most likely outcome is a charge of involuntary manslaughter (if the jury is moved by Huguely’s videotaped shock at the news of Love’s death) or second-degree murder (the kicked-in door; the lies to police). What’s your best guess? Let us know in the comments.
Update: At about 6:45 p.m.today, February 22, the jury returned a guilty verdict of second-degree murder in the case.
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