CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A jury Wednesday evening found former University of Virginia lacrosse player George W. Huguely V guilty of second-degree murder in the 2010 death of estranged girlfriend Yeardley Love and sentenced him to 26 years in prison.
The jury found Huguely, 24, not guilty on four lesser charges after deliberating for nearly 10 hours. Circuit Judge Edward L. Hogshire can only reduce the sentence, but Huguely has no possibility of parole. The sentence includes one year for a secondary charge of grand larceny. The final sentencing date is April 16.
Prosecutors spent nine days in the trial trying to convince the jury of seven men and five women that the defendant had committed first-degree murder by entering Love's off-campus apartment shortly after midnight May 3, 2010, breaking through her bedroom door, then killing her in a drunken rage.
Defense attorneys argued that Huguely went to Love's apartment to try to talk about the relationship, which unraveled in fits of jealousy and excessive drinking.
Huguely told police during a taped interview that he had "wrestled" with Love, 22, but did not slam her head repeatedly against a wall as prosecutors argued.
"She's not dead. There's no way she's dead," Huguely is heard on a tape crying when a detective tells him what happened to Love.
Huguely and Love were seniors at the university in their final weeks of school. Love was also a member of the university's women's lacrosse team.
Among the last voices that jurors heard before deciding Huguely's sentence were those of Sharon and Alexis Love, the victim's mother and sister.
"Every year that goes by, I would like to know what she'd be doing now," Sharon Love said through tears. "I'm afraid I'm forgetting little pieces about her. It's torture. It never goes away. You just have to pick yourself up and do the best you can. You try and do the best for Yeardley."
Alexis Love told jurors she still hasn't touched her sister's belongings in the bathroom they shared in the family's suburban Baltimore home and spoke of how her sister's death has devastated their mother.
"It's the worst thing in the world," she said. "I hate it. It tears your heart apart. There's nothing you can do about it but be strong and try to make things better."
The Love family also release a statement after the sentence that read in part: "We dread looking back on the events -- and pray for the strength to get through each day. Time has not made us miss Yeardley any less, in fact quite the opposite. It is truly devastating to wake up each day and realize that she is no longer here."
On the courthouse steps, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence hinted at an appeal.
"We are disappointed with the verdict but proud to represent George and his fight for fairness," he said amid the glare of TV camera lights and a cold drizzle. "We look forward to some corrections in what happened here today."
Mr. Lawrence also said Huguely has the support of his family and that he remains "hopeful" and "spiritual."
Huguely, noticeably thinner since his arrest, remained stoic while the verdict and sentence were read, though he kept his head down while listening to Love's mother and sister.
His friends and family filled the first three rows of the courtroom, but only his other attorney, Rhonda Quagliana, spoke before the sentencing on behalf of Huguely -- a stellar athlete and honor student at Landon School, in Bethesda, and the son in a wealthy Chevy Chase family.
"No decision you make can bring Yeardley back," she said. "Passage of time is experienced in a lot of different ways. The penitentiary time you impose will be served day by day, week by week, year by year."
Love was found facedown and unresponsive in her bloody pillow. First responders testified that they suspected foul play after noticing the gaping hole in the bedroom door and her bruised and bloody face. Huguely was arrested hours later.
Both sides presented expert medical witnesses in the trial. Prosecution witnesses suggested that damage to Love's face, including a severely swollen eye, and damage to her neck, brain and mouth showed she was stifled and beaten and that she died of blunt-force trauma.
The 6-foot-2 Huguely weighed roughly 200 pounds, about twice as much as Love.
The defense's expert witness suggested Love died in part from a mix of alcohol and Adderall, an attention-deficit drug, and suffocating in her own pillow.
Other testimony and evidence highlighted Huguely and Love's troubled relationship.
The jealously between them appeared to culminate in an email Huguely sent Love days before her death.
"I should have killed you" he wrote, after learning about a romantic relationship between Love and a University of North Carolina lacrosse player.
Huguely also admitted to taking Love's laptop as "collateral" the night he killed her, which resulted in the grand larceny conviction.
Teammates testified that on May 2, the day leading up to Love's death, Huguely started drinking the morning of a father-son golf outing and continued through dinner, knocking over a wine bottle and slurring his words.
Huguely had a history of drinking and losing control, including a 2008 incident near a fraternity at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., in which was subdued with a Taser and arrested. Yet trial witnesses said his drinking had gotten more out of control and that they had considered an intervention.
"It remains now to each of us to commit to caring for one another and, when we see someone in trouble, to having the courage to intercede and offer assistance," university president Teresa A. Sullivan said late Wednesday night. "Our sympathy and compassion go to the Love family, as well as to the Huguely family, as they face the future and their personal grief."
The jury had minimal correspondence with the courtroom throughout Wednesday, asking by note for a definition of the word "reason" and to request the handwritten note from Huguely to Love in which he apologized for putting her in a chokehold at a party in February 2010.
"I can't describe how sorry I am," he said in the note, which was read in part during closing arguments last week by commonwealth's attorney Warner D. Chapman. "Alcohol is ruining my life. I will never act out as I did that night."
The letter was found in Love's desk drawer after investigators combed her bedroom for evidence after her death.
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