As has been widely reported, a University of Virginia lacrosse player, George Huguely V, was found guilty last week of second-degree murder after lengthy deliberation by a jury in Virginia. The conviction is less than prosecutors were seeking which was first-degree murder. The case concerns the slaying of Yeardley Love, Huguely’s ex-girlfriend. The motive for the murder proposed by the prosecution was the Huguely was jealous over Love’s relationship with another lacrosse player.
What has not been discussed is a mistake by the defense team and then whether it actually impacted deliberations by jurors.
First the error. A report on the Evidence Prof Blog states the defense ignored court rules that prohibit a witness being told about previous testimony. ”Dr. Ronald Uscinski, a neurosurgeon, testified that Yeardley Love’s skull and brain showed no evidence of blunt force trauma, which contradicted the prosecution’s claim that Love died from blunt force trauma to the head after Huguely beat her severely and left her to die. Dr. Uscinski, however, was not allowed to offer additional opinion testimony about other subjects. Why?
Virginia’s “Rule on Witnesses” prohibits witnesses from being empowered with certain information before their testimony once the trial is in progress.
Prosecutor Warner “Dave” Chapman provided the judge with three emails from the defense team in which defense witness Dr. Uscinski is included. The emails included information that summarized prosecution witness Dr. Renu Virmani’s testimony.
The third email originated from defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana and was sent to three people, including Uscinski. It included information about CPR and blood reperfusion, tissue damage caused when blood returns to the tissue after a period when oxygen has been lacking.
Dr. Uscinski told the judge he did not recall seeing the e-mails, but that didn’t prevent the judge from applying the “Rule on Witnesses” to preclude the doctor from testifying concerning certain subjects, such as CPR. The effect was that the defense’s expert was limited on what he could offer in the way of explanation to the jury. Virginia does not have codified rules on evidence but like many jurisdictions follows the federal rules where applicable. The trial court found that the defense violated the rule prohibiting discussion of previous witness testimony.
Did that impact the jury? Consider the factual proof offered at trial.
On the night of May 2, 2010, Love was found, laying face down on her pillow in her bedroom. An investigation revealed that Love had a swollen and bruised right eye, injuries to her jaw, inside her mouth, and around her neck, and there were also marks on her chest. The coroner ultimately concluded the young woman died as a result of blunt force trauma.
The jury listened to nearly 60 witnesses during the course of the trial, which lasted more than nine days, and at one point included the tearful mother of the victim Sharon Love. Jurors were presented with a police interrogation video to support the defense’s position. The video showed Huguely explaining what happened that night. He told police that he went to Love’s apartment and attempted to talk with her about their relationship when she “freaked out.” When she escalated the situation Huguely said the altercation become physical and he admits to possibly shaking her, though he denies punching or grabbing her around the neck. Huguely also said that Love repeatedly banged her own head against the wall.
The defense offered Dr. Uscinski who testified that it was not the physical beating that was the cause of her death but that she smothered in the pillow after Huguely left. The defense also pointed out that Love had been drinking and the mixture of her ADHD medication with the alcohol could have caused her death. The coroner refuted this evidence, saying that while both substances were in her tox screen neither appeared in lethal levels.
The defense admitted that Huguely may have played a role in her death but that it was accidental. The defense asked the jury to find Huguely guilty of simply involuntary manslaughter which would result in a 10-year prison term.
The prosecution painted a darker picture. Only a week before her death, Huguely sent an email to Love mentioning her relationship with another player saying, “I should have killed you.”
A juror has spoken out.
Question: How difficult was it to come to an agreement on second-degree murder?
Ian Glomsky (Juror): We all did not think that the killing was premeditated. We don’t think he went over there with the purpose of killing Yeardley Love. That brought us, in a sense, to a second phase of that determination and that’s determining whether it’s second-degree murder or manslaughter. The defining factor between those two is whether the killing was done with “malice” or in the “heat of passion.” The “heat of passion” situation requires the provocation that is sufficient enough to make to a reasonable person essentially become “temporarily insane.” Time and time again, Huguely was describing things in a rational fashion. At one point, one of the officers asked George, ‘Were you really angry and enraged when you went through that door?’ George literally said, ‘No, I wasn’t angry, I was more emotional.’ That really suggests that it’s not a “heat of passion” situation. George even said he went in there and essentially was having a discussion with her. Whether that happened or not doesn’t really matter, but it’s giving the impression that it’s not like he snapped. There was no indication that she gave any massive provocation to make him become temporarily insane and violent. So if it wasn’t “heat of passion”, our only other choice was “malice.” It was clear that we all felt the malice was demonstrated primary through his actions: taking physical action on another person.
Huguely reportedly did not show any emotion as the verdict was read. The jury found Huguely guilty of two charges, second-degree murder and grand larceny, for stealing her computer. The jury recommended Huguely serve 26 years in prison for both charges. He will be formally sentenced later this year and many legal experts believe, if sentenced by the court to 26 years, he will serve about 21 years under Virginia law.
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)