RICHMOND, Va. — An appeals court on Tuesday affirmed the second-degree murder conviction of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player who fatally beat his ex-girlfriend, a killing that ushered in changes in state law aimed at limiting relationship violence.
The Court of Appeals of Virginia found no reversible errors in George W. Huguely V's conviction for the slaying of Yeardley Love, a 22-year-old from suburban Baltimore who was a member of the women's lacrosse team at U.Va.
Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Md., is serving a 23-year prison term in Virginia on the second-degree murder charge and for a grand larceny conviction, which he did not appeal.
Huguely's attorneys raised several issues related to his February 2012 trial in Charlottesville. A key claim was that Huguely was denied counsel when one of his attorneys, Rhonda Quagliana, fell ill during the trial and the judge agreed to proceed despite Huguely's objections.
Noting that the judge excused the jury for a day and consulted with Huguely's co-counsel, the court wrote, "The trial judge certainly did not arbitrarily disregard Huguely's right to Ms. Qualiana's presence at trial."
Huguely's attorneys also questioned the seating of jurors who expressed opinions about elements of the case. Juror 32, for instance, indicated in a questionnaire that she felt Huguely was guilty, "based on conversations with others and based on the media reports that she had seen," the court wrote.
"However, that does not tell the entire story..." the court wrote. "Juror 32 also wrote by hand, 'Do have an open mind!'" The juror also said she could arrive at a verdict based on the facts.
The appeals court also rejected claims that jurors were not properly instructed on the meaning of "malice" under Virginia law.
Jurors who convicted Huguely heard testimony that the two had a volatile, off-and-on relationship that included infidelity, physical violence and heavy drinking. One witness, for instance, said he had seen Huguely put Love in a chokehold.
Love was found dead in her apartment after Huguely kicked a hole in her bedroom door and beat her after a day of heavy drinking, according to trial testimony. She died of blunt force trauma to the head.
Huguely told police the two had had a physical confrontation but denied beating her.
Love's death has had a lasting impact in Virginia and at the university. It's easier now for abuse victims in Virginia to get a restraining order and students must tell the university if they have ever been arrested.
Huguely was arrested in Lexington in 2008 after a drunken confrontation with a police officer.
School officials and students also have tried to make the culture on campus is one in which people look out for each other and aren't afraid to report relationship violence.
Virginia has no parole, but Huguely could reduce his sentence by 15 percent if he earns credits by participating in prison programs and stays out of trouble. He also would be credited with time served, leaving him with 16 years in prison.
In a statement released by Huguely's family, he his mother Marta Murphy wrote, "We continue in our love and support for George, and our lawyers are evaluating all options to get him a fair trial."
Love's mother, Sharon Love, has filed two lawsuits seeking nearly $60 million. One is aimed at Huguely while the other claims the university and athletic department officials and coaches ignored Huguely's drinking and violent behavior.