- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A University of North Carolina lacrosse player testified Thursday that he responded to a cry for help and saw George W. Huguely V choking his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love, three months before she was killed.

Michael Burns, who said he occasionally saw Love romantically in the months before the 22-year-old University of Virginia student was found dead from blunt-force trauma in her off-campus apartment, described seeing Mr. Huguely with a chokehold on Love.

“I went into George’s apartment, opened the door and saw George with his arm around Yeardley’s neck,” he said. “They were both on the bed. George was lying on his back, Yeardley was lying on her back on top of George. He had his arm around her neck.”

He testified a day after Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman made public an email to Love in which Mr. Huguely wrote, in part, “I should have killed you.”

Prosecutors showed jurors photos of Love’s battered body and questioned emergency medical personnel and detectives who responded to the scene.

Mr. Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in connection with the death of Love, his onetime girlfriend, on May 3, 2010. Both were seniors at the time and both played lacrosse on the university’s nationally ranked teams.

Another witness, University of Virginia graduate Stephanie Aladj, testified that she and Mr. Huguely had engaged in a romantic relationship while Mr. Huguely and Love continued to see each other.

“Sometimes George would tell me they were not dating or Yeardley [and several friends] would tell me they were dating,” Ms. Aladj said.

During another encounter in late April, just before Love’s death, witnesses said Love confronted Mr. Huguely in his apartment while he was sitting with three women.

“She said, ‘Are these your new girlfriends? Are these the girls you’ve been texting?’” recalled university student Kate Kamber, who was in the room at the time.

Ms. Kamber said Mr. Huguely responded in a “calm, collected” way, saying something like, “You crazy bitch,” or “You crazy slut.”

Elizabeth McLean, who was also in the apartment during the incident, told the jury that she heard Love hitting Mr. Huguely with her purse and its contents spilling onto the floor. She helped Love collect her belongings and walked her outside.

The testimony, which started about 10 a.m. and extended past 6 p.m., suggested a troubled, on-again, off-again relationship between Mr. Huguely and Love that was subject to fits of intense jealousy and complicated by bouts of excessive drinking that led Mr. Huguely’s teammates to consider an intervention.

Mr. Burns said he met Love two years earlier and that he had “hooked up” with her on several occasions throughout the course of her college career — as recently as the week before her death.

He described hearing calls for help on Feb. 27, 2010, during a party after a university lacrosse game.

“We heard a girl yelling, ‘Help me, help me,’” Mr. Burns said.

He said he entered the room and Mr. Huguely released Love and rolled over to face the wall. Love scrambled off the bed and as she was leaving told Mr. Burns, “Thank you so much.”

“She also said she couldn’t breathe,” he said. “She was hysterically crying.”

During cross-examination, defense attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence asked whether Love had talked to Mr. Burns about that night. Mr. Burns said that Love told him that “everything was OK. George was just being crazy.”

Mr. Lawrence also suggested that there were discrepancies in the way Mr. Burns described to police how he had seen Mr. Huguely holding Love and his testimony Thursday.

“I know for sure his arm was around her neck,” Mr. Burns said.

Mr. Chapman used Mr. Burns‘ account to set the stage for what they have said will be evidence showing a violent physical confrontation during which Mr. Huguely repeatedly banged Love’s head against a wall.

Members of the local rescue squad testified that they performed 25 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Love, of Cockeysville, Md., but there was no sign of life. Police said it seemed clear that Love was not the victim of alcohol poisoning, as her roommate initially suspected when she called for help.

Officer K.W. Blackwell, one of the first Charlottesville police officers to respond, said one of her eyes “was swollen shut, bruised and purple.” He added, “When I saw that it was nowhere near the report that was given, I realized something completely different had happened.”

Sgt. Shawn Bayles, a detective, said the first thing he noticed was that the apartment door had been kicked in — enough to ask whether rescuers had to force entry into the room.

“Obviously, she was a victim of some act of violence,” he said.

Love’s unresponsive body was lying on her floor, partially obscured by emergency medical personnel performing CPR. Once he was able to see her face, Sgt. Bayles said, Love had “on the right side of the eye, a large area of discolored black and blue. On her neck and chin there were abrasions.”

Sgt. Bayles said a female member of the rescue squad noted that the toilet seat was up in Love’s private bathroom.

The testimony was accompanied by crime-scene photographs projected from a flat-screen television facing away from family members and reporters in the courtroom. Love’s mother, Sharon, and her sister, Alexis, could be seen crying quietly as the description of Love’s condition was recalled.

Police quickly suspected Mr. Huguely, who was arrested hours after her death and has been in jail since.

Prosecutors say Mr. Huguely stole a laptop computer from Love and discarded it the night she was killed in an attempt to destroy evidence, including an email he sent her. They said computer forensics experts recovered fragments of an email that read, “I love how you don’t think you did anything wrong. … I should have killed you.”

Defense attorneys say Mr. Huguely did not know when he left her apartment that Love was fatally injured and that he took the computer in an attempt to get her to reach out to him. They clarified that the fragments were not necessarily caused by an email deletion, but by the way the computer stored online data.

Mr. Huguely sat between his two attorneys and occasionally looked toward the courtroom audience in the direction of family members who have attended the trial.

His defense team has acknowledged that Mr. Huguely had an encounter with Love and, based on their opening statement, they are expected to argue that Mr. Huguely’s physical contact with Love did not cause her death but that bleeding in Love’s brain was caused by the nearly half-hour of CPR performed on her.

Mr. Huguely’s attorneys have said Love’s death was the result of a tragic accident, that Love’s blood alcohol level was between 0.16 and 0.18 and that she had been drinking in the hours before her death.

They have said her death was caused in part from a mixture of alcohol and the prescription drug Adderall, commonly used to treat attention-deficit (hyperactivity) disorder.

The prosecution called to the stand Dr. Danny Mistry, the primary care physician for the university during Love’s four years playing women’s lacrosse.

Dr. Mistry said that in the 2006-07 academic year, the athletic department became concerned with the high number of athletes using stimulant medication for attention-deficit disorders and that he examined Love.

“She was cleared to play medically, even on Adderall,” he said. “There was nothing out of the ordinary.”

Asked whether there was “any medical reason why she could pass away on May 3, 2010,” Dr. Mistry replied “no.”