The somber echoes of a decade-old murder filled the air of the Charlottesville Circuit Court Tuesday as the family of Yeardley Love entered the courthouse to again face her murderer, George Huguely V.
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 and the administrator of her estate, began Monday with jury selection but more formally began Tuesday with opening statements. The wrongful death lawsuit seeks $29.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
Tuesday’s 11-person jury was presented with a case similar to the one a jury heard a decade prior, a tale of tragedy, violence and substance abuse. Instead of guilt, this time the jury will determine whether Love’s family is entitled to financial restitution from the man convicted of murdering her.
Love was a dedicated student and talented athlete, said Love family attorney Paul D. Bekman. Reading to the jurors an essay the deceased young woman wrote at the age of 15, Bekman said that Love wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend UVa.
In the essay, the teenaged Love reflected on her life and how much she valued her family, which was just her mother and sister following the death of her father a few years prior.
“So far my life has been filled with joy and happiness and I hope to keep it that way,” Love wrote in the essay.
Bekman said her life was cut tragically short by Huguely on May 3, 2010, and she never got to have the family she so badly wanted.
Before her murder, Love achieved one dream by attending UVa on a partial scholarship, Bekman said. It was at school that she met Huguely, a lacrosse player for whom Bekman said she grew to love and care.
Huguely’s habitual alcohol consumption cast a shadow over the young couple, he said.
“As good of an athlete as he was, he had an Achilles’ heel and that Achilles’ heel was alcohol,” Bekman said. “His habit of drinking grew as he got older until it was out of control.”
Bekman characterized Huguely as a jealous boyfriend who at one point physically attacked a teammate he believed was sleeping with Love. In the 30 hours leading up to Love’s murder, Bekman said Huguely drank copious amounts of alcohol and tried to hook up with another woman before turning his attention to Love and going to her apartment.
Though it’s difficult to know what exactly happened that night, Bekman said the evidence shows Huguely kicked a hole in Love’s bedroom door and left her bruised and injured. She sustained external injuries to the right side of her face and, according to previous medical examiner testimony; she died of blunt force trauma to her head.
“What happened was a massive, brutal, vicious assault and battery on a young woman much smaller than him,” Bekman said. “He had no regard for what harm he could cause her and I would submit to you that he showed disregard for what he did to her.”
By attacking Love, injuring her and then leaving her in her bed without any effort to get her medical assistance or check if she was all right, Bekman said Huguely was responsible for her death.
The jury was shown enlarged photos of Love’s body taken the morning after the attack. Blood pooled around her mouth as she lay on the floor beside the bed in which she died. Love’s mother and sister, who had quietly cried during much of the opening statement, left the courtroom prior to the photographs being shown.
Ultimately it was determined that Love’s cause of death was an injury to the brain she likely suffered during the attack, Bekman said.
In the state of Virginia, plaintiffs are allowed to argue for compensatory damages resulting from mental anguish, sorrow and other less-tangible pain related to the death of a loved one, Bekman said.
Huguely’s attorney, Matthew Green, presented a slightly different argument to the jury. Describing his client as an “extrovert’s extrovert,” Green said Huguely was a highly social person who hated being alone.
Huguely especially hated partying alone, Green said, and his idea of partying involved consuming vast amounts of alcohol. Over the course of the 30 hours leading up to Love’s murder, Green said Huguely consumed somewhere around 50 alcoholic beverages, only stopping his consumption to sleep.
The day leading up to Love’s death is a blur to Huguely, Green said. Although he spent nearly all of it with family and friends, he claims to remember little of it.
“[Huguely] describes the day as a slideshow and someone has gone in and pulled out all but 8% of the slides,” Green said.
As was argued in the criminal trial, Green spent much of his opening statement trying to establish that Huguely had not intended to kill Love and was unaware of the extent of her injuries. In particular, Green pointed to the unusual nature of Love’s head injury, which he said medical experts would testify was not typically fatal, although it was in this case.
Green also told the jury that investigators had uncovered no evidence that Love was thrown against a wall and that only one “ear witness” would testify to hearing a loud thud during the time Huguely was in Love’s room. This was the sound of Love falling to the floor and likely sustaining the head injury that killed her, he said.
Although his client acknowledges his role in Love’s death, Green said he does not believe there are grounds for the type of damages being requested by her family.
Additionally, justice has already been served, Green said, pointing out that his client is serving a 23-year prison sentence without any hope of parole.
“This case was a big deal. Every resource that could be used to prosecute [Huguely] and get justice for [Love] was utilized,” he said.
Over the next several days the jurors will hear testimony from Love’s family, Huguely, various medical examiners and several friends and former teammates of the deceased. Some of this testimony will be presented via video depositions from several years prior.
The trial is scheduled to end May 3, on the 12th anniversary of Love’s death.