A decade after he was convicted of murdering Yeardley Love, George Huguely V will return to Charlottesville Circuit Court to face a civil jury trial from his victim’s mother.
Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, was found guilty in 2012 of killing Love, 22, a fellow UVa lacrosse player and Huguely’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. She was found dead in her apartment in May 2010, two weeks before she and Huguely were set to graduate.
A lawsuit from Sharon Love, Yeardley’s mother, is set to begin trial on Monday. The wrongful death lawsuit seeks $29.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages. It is scheduled to end May 3, on the 12th anniversary of Love’s death.
The criminal case against Huguely drew national attention, culminating in a highly public trial in February 2012. The jury declined to find Huguely guilty of first-degree murder, instead finding him guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder and recommending a 26-year prison sentence. A judge later slightly reduced the sentence to 23 years, about half of which Huguely has now served.
In the intervening decade, Huguely has attempted to appeal his conviction through a swath of uncommon legal maneuvers at the same time he has been the object of multiple legal actions from Sharon Love.
Love dropped an earlier version of the lawsuit in 2018 following a decision in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Maryland. That court upheld a federal judge’s 2017 decision that an insurance company was not required to pay a $6 million policy on behalf of Huguely, thereby reducing possible damage awards available to Love.
The potential insurance coverage hinged on whether Yeardley Love’s death was due to Huguely’s negligence or his intent. Counsel for Love’s mother argued, in part, that Huguely’s slaying of Yeardley Love was unintentional. In the end, the Maryland judge ruled that it didn’t matter. Yeardley Love’s death at Huguely’s hand was criminal whether it was intentional or not and the insurance company did not need to pay.
The unintentional slaying argument in the civil case stood in stark contrast to the arguments presented by prosecutors during Huguely’s criminal trial, however. According to that testimony, on the day she was killed Love and her roommates had been out drinking at a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant and bar on the UVa Corner. While her roommates went out again later that night, Yeardley Love decided to stay home.
Huguely, testimony showed, was very drunk that same day from “nonstop” drinking. While on a golf outing with teammates, Huguely was so drunk he started missing the golf ball in swings, witnesses said. Later in the day he split a bottle of wine with his father at a downtown restaurant.
Defense witness said Huguely went to Love’s house with the intention of making up after the two exchanged an “abusive, angry and demeaning series of emails” earlier that week. Testimony showed Huguely broke in her door and, in an angry argument, shook Love hard, her head hitting the wall.
He left her on the bed with a bloody nose, grabbed her laptop computer, left the room and threw the computer in a dumpster on his way home.
Huguely’s defense attorneys argued that their client did not intentionally kill Love and that he told police the truth when, during questioning, he said he did not believe Love was dead.
“George is really not capable of maintaining a lie. He’s not complicated. He’s not complex. He’s a lacrosse player,” they said in court.
Medical examiner testimony showed Love died of blunt force trauma to her head, leading the defense and prosecution experts to offer differing medical opinions on the lethal consequences of her injuries.
In Virginia, at the time of Huguely’s conviction, intoxication was a defense against first-degree murder because a drunk person might not have the mental capacity to premeditate a killing. Testimony about Huguely’s drinking was argued heavily by the defense throughout the trial and may have impacted the jury’s decision.
Love’s latest lawsuit does not claim negligence, but includes the additional claim that an assault and battery by Huguely was the cause of Love’s death. The lawsuit states that punitive damages are warranted because Huguely injured Love and then left her injured and without medical attention.
Huguely, the suit argues, acted with “actual malice and in such a way as to [show] a conscious disregard for the safety and life of Love, thereby willfully causing Love’s injuries,” according to the lawsuit.
The list of witnesses expected to be called during trial includes a variety of witnesses who also testified during the criminal trial.
According to the Associated Press, Huguely’s attorney, Matthew Green, said the defense will acknowledge that Huguely’s assault and battery caused Love’s death and that her family is entitled to compensatory damages in an amount to be decided by the jury. But he said the defense does not believe punitive damages are appropriate.
“For the same reasons that the jury in the criminal trial did not believe that George’s conduct rose to the heightened level necessary for a first-degree murder conviction, we don’t believe the conduct rises to the heightened level of willful and wanton conduct necessary for an award of punitive damages,” he said.
He said punitive damages are not required in a lawsuit but are left to the discretion of a jury.
Green told the Associated Press that Huguely is expected to testify and will be brought from prison to court only on that day, not throughout the trial.
In the years since the trial, Huguely has attempted to appeal the case several times. In 2015, his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear his claim that the city circuit court denied his right to counsel by forcing him to proceed when one of his lawyers fell ill.
With direct methods of appeal exhausted, counsel for Huguely in April 2020 filed a writ of habeas corpus, an order demanding the director of the Virginia Department of Corrections bring Huguely to court and show a valid reason for his being jailed.
The writ, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleged a swath of Sixth Amendment violations, the constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial.
In February 2021 hearing on the issue, a juror from Huguely’s trial testified that she recalled a dictionary being consulted during deliberations, although she could remember few details about the book.
Huguely’s counsel argued that if a dictionary was consulted for the definition of “malice,” as the juror alleged, then it could have unfairly prejudiced the jury.
But state attorneys provided testimony from the other jurors and surviving sheriff’s deputies, none of whom recalled a dictionary.
Huguely’s petition was denied and the judge ruled it could not be appealed, a decision Huguely’s attorneys attempted unsuccessfully in September 2021to appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Huguely remains at the State Farm Enterprise Unit in Powhatan County and is currently set for release in 2030.