Will Huguely verdict bring sense of closure?
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- As Judge Edward Hogshire read the jury's verdict against George Huguely V on Wednesday evening, the 24-year-old former University of Virginia lacrosse player sat still in his chair. Dressed in a gray coat, his formerly shaggy brown hair cut short, his skin pale and eyes hollow, Huguely listened as Hogshire announced he had been found guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny in the death of his former girlfriend, Yeardley Love.
Huguely kept his eyes forward and showed little emotion as one of his attorneys, Francis Lawrence, patted his back. He occasionally glanced toward the jury of seven men and five women who had listened to testimony from close to 60 witnesses over two weeks -- family, friends, medical experts and former teammates of Love, a UVa women's lacrosse player, and Huguely -- before deliberating Wednesday for nine hours.
But when Love's mother, Sharon, took the stand prior to sentencing and told the jury about the devastating loss of her younger daughter, Huguely lowered his head. He never looked at Sharon Love and wiped his eyes several times while listening to her describe how, when her younger daughter's friends walk into the room, she sometimes still thinks Yeardley will walk in behind them.
"Oh, how I wish she would," said Sharon Love, breaking down into sobs for several seconds before speaking again.
When the prosecution asked her to describe in one word what she has felt over the past 19 months since Yeardley's death on May 3, 2010, Love didn't hesitate: "Torture."
"It never goes away," Love added. "Every day is different. Sometimes you think you can bear it and some days are just unbearable."
She described how Yeardley continued to excel in school, earning a scholarship and qualifying for the UVa honor roll even after her father had died of cancer. Sharon talked about how she had been so excited for Yeardley's future -- for her wedding, the children she would have -- a future she often imagines now, even when she knows it will never happen. She spoke of her fears, breaking down again before the jury as she said how every year she is afraid she is forgetting little pieces of her daughter, the details that made her who she was.
"I still talk to her every day," Sharon said.
Residents of Charlottesville and the UVa community initially reacted with shock and sadness that such a terrible act of domestic violence could occur on the quaint, historic campus, but attention to the case waned as weeks and months passed since Huguely was accused of killing Love in a drunken rage in May 2010.
National focus returned in early February, as the city prepared for a record-sized media crowd. As the trial began, residents sometimes walked past the courthouse or sat in the designated "public" seats inside the courtroom. This past Saturday, five or six local residents sat in the last rows of the media overflow viewing area and watched the trial's final day of testimony via a live TV feed. But most residents appeared to track the case through breaking news updates on national and local TV stations, Twitter and Facebook.
Charlottesville resident Keri O'Connor, who lives near downtown didn't attend UVa, noted that "[UVa] is a college that has a great deal of pride and belief in traditions and this seemed, literally, unbelievable. In the days following [Love's] death, there was obvious sorrow and grief, but also a great deal of anger. That anger started and led discussions that went all the way through our state government for changes that will hopefully prevent something like this happening again."
Echoing that element of disbelief, several UVa residents and alumni spoke of wanting to move past an event that felt so outside "the norm," perhaps another reason why attention toward the case didn't seem as overt as the disruptive physical presence of the national media blocking downtown streets and filling lunch spots frequented by local workers.
Rocky Mount, Va. resident and UVa alum Sara Smith spoke of how difficult it was to hear "tough criticisms of UVa as a whole in the wake of Love's death."
"There are people who think that these events are indicative of a misogynistic southern university where entitled rich kids drink to excess and party with no consequences for behavior; where athletes do whatever they want with free reign," Smith said. "It's frustrating to hear this kind of criticism of my alma mater, particularly when my experience was so different. UVa is a lot more than the Yeardley Love case, and Charlottesville is a lot more than UVa."
But as the trial unfolded over the past two weeks, Charlottesville residents did not show up in droves. In fact, many have not wanted to comment publicly.
As the jury deliberated earlier Wednesday, residents dined just a few blocks away along the nearby downtown pedestrian mall and strolled quietly in the unseasonably warm temperatures, enjoying a drink outdoors or a family dinner. Few residents stood outside the courthouse, where sidewalks were blocked off because of the 40-50 media members, cameras and TV vans staked out along High and Fourth streets. Some were also planning to attend evening church services for Ash Wednesday.
The most anticipation felt outside of the courtroom itself was in the media overflow room, where reporters constantly tweeted and took notes throughout the day.
Lexie Love, Yeardley's older sister, took the stand following her mother during the sentencing phase. Huguely kept his gaze downward, listening and occasionally wiping his eyes. Wearing a bright blue cardigan and scarf, Lexie talked about her initial shock on the morning of May 3, when she learned her only sister was dead. She couldn't believe it and she couldn't cry.
"I just had questions: How? When? Where? Why? Who?" Lexie said.
She described her sister's room in their childhood home, still unchanged since her death -- she sees pictures of Yeardley's friends and looks for her sister standing next to them; she'll hear a song on the radio that reminds her of her sister and burst into tears. Lexie said she and Yeardley spoke every day and had already planned to live in the same neighborhood one day, to ensure their children would be good friends and to take care of their mother as she aged.
"Before our dad died, he said to keep the family close and to take care of everyone," Lexie said, her voice cracking. "I am completely devastated -- the worst thing in the world happened. There is a huge hole that will always be there and nothing can fill it."
Huguely's attorneys chose not to have any witnesses speak on his behalf before sentencing. One of his attorneys, Rhonda Quagliana, talked to the jury about the many "what ifs" surrounding the day and night of Love's death: What if Huguely hadn't played a morning round of golf with other team members and their dads, starting a day of excessive drinking when Huguely had close to 20 drinks? What if Yeardley's roommates had been at home the night Huguely kicked through her bedroom door? Quagliana acknowledged Huguely's abuse of alcohol had gotten out of control, noting, "That's not an excuse, it's just a fact."
Shortly after 10 p.m. ET, the jury returned with their recommended sentence: 25 years imprisonment for the charge of second-degree murder and one year for the charge of grand larceny. Lawrence put his arm around his client's waist as Huguely looked down. Lexie Love shook her head and whispered to her mother as the judge detailed final jury instructions and scheduled an April 16 sentencing date for Huguely.
Sharon and Lexie did not speak to reporters, but released a statement that read, in part: "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 with us. Intelligence and athletic ability are God-given talents. Kindness and compassion are choices choices that Yeardley made every day without a second thought."
Members of both families and legal teams filed out of the courthouse, weaving through the cameras, reporters and bright lights, facing an uncertain future. The media throng will also leave Charlottesville, and Fourth Street will reopen. Just like normal.
Anna Katherine Clemmons writes for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.