CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WUSA) - George W. Huguely V will serve 23 years in state prison in the beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love.
Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, arrived for the sentencing hearing in Charlottesville Circuit Court on Thursday at approximately 12:23 p.m. in a sheriff's van. He looked thinner than the last time he was in court and had longer, darker hair. He was wearing a jail jumpsuit with horizontal stripes as he lumbered into the courthouse.
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The courtroom quickly filled with reporters and family of Huguely and Love. Huguely's father, George Huguely IV, was on one side of the courtroom while Love's mother and sister were seating on the other side. When Huguely sat down between his attorneys, he leaned and seemed to whisper to one before leaning to look at the crowd, apparently looking for familiar faces.
Huguely's attorney stressed the need for "punishment that is fair" and not one simply to satisfy people looking for justice for Yeardley Love and her family. In February, the jury had recommended that Huguely serve 26 years in prison.
NOTE: Earlier this month, Huguely lost his bid for a new trial. His attorneys argued there were multiple errors before and during the trial, including prosecutors not telling them that Love's mother planned to sue Huguely and that one of the attorneys had to miss several days of the trial due to illness, but the judge determined there was overwhelming evidence to support his conviction. His attorneys also wanted the sentencing delayed until October 1.
In the opening statements on Thursday, Huguely's attorney said Huguely has had "outstanding behavior in jail" and asked that his sentence be 14 years instead of the jury's recommended 26. Later, in final statements, the defense also stressed consistency about guidelines for juries in determining a recommendation.
READ: Huguely Defense Sentencing Memorandum (courtesy: WVIR)
Attorney Francis Lawrence said that the jury in the trial was essentially told "do what you think is appropriate" and that the defense trying to handout a sheet about guidelines for involuntary manslaughter during the sentencing hearing was not about trying to change the jury's decision but rather reduce sentencing time.
Several people spoke about Huguely, including a young woman who knew George Huguely since the first year of college, a young woman whose father had coached Huguely, a former lacrosse teammate, a family friend, an aunt, an uncle and a Catholic priest who has visited Huguely in jail for the past two years.
The first to testify was Stephanie Aladj who said she had known Huguely since her first year at the University of Virginia and that they had lived on the same hall. She also stated that she knew Love: they were in the same pledge class in Love's sorority. Aladj, who told the court that she was "romantically involved occasionally" with Huguely, that she recalled one instance in which she was walking with George Huguely and a couple of friends and Huguely hit one of the friends. She said that they all had been drinking the entire time that they were at the Mellow Mushroom on the Corner before leaving and walking down 14th Street. At some point Huguely hit the friend but the fight was broken up and the friend was okay. Still, Aladj said she ran home with her roommate afterwards.
Claire Bordley also told the court about an incident in which everyone had been drinking and Huguely reportedly became upset and violent. She stated that she was at Boylan Heights when Huguely approached her at the bar upset about something she had told her father, his former coach, about his behavior. Bordley said Huguely grabbed her with both hands around the neck before a bouncer quickly intervened and escorted Huguely out. Bordley maintained that she was "not strangled" but there was some pressure and that it happened very quickly.
A former teammate, Gavin Gill, described an incident that would later be called "eerily similar" to what happened to Yeardley Love. He told the court that in early spring 2009 at an off-campus party Love had told him that she and Huguely had broken up. At some point, Gill and Love left the party together. He told the court that he was aware that "they had an on and off relationship." When he returned home in the middle of the night and was lying in bed, he awakened to see George Huguely over him. Gill then said, "He beat me up." Gill says he didn't remember much else that night and the "swelling and bruising was the only way to identify where he hit me."
Gill said he didn't tell the coach or anyone until Huguely apologized to him. When he was asked about the bruises, he said something about overstepping boundaries with Huguely and his ex-girlfriend. He explained his actions in court by saying he wanted to make it clear that he was in the wrong as well "and in a short-sighted way didn't want George to be punished for it."
Gill was on the stand for longer than the others who testified before him. On cross-examination, he was asked if he had talked to the prosecution recently about his testimony and then about the civil case, which sparked an argument between attorneys.
Gill also reluctantly admitted that he had sex with Love but called their relationship "shallow." He told the court that he felt "remorse for what I had done."
READ: Huguely Court Documents
VIEW: Huguely Trial Timeline (courtesy: WVIR)
The next person to testify on Thursday was Henry Masur, whose son was a friend of George Huguely. He said he got to know Huguely and his family primarily through school and athletic events over a long period of time. He described Huguely as "the kind who had no problems talking to adults" and was "kind" and "respectful." According to Masur, Huguely before college hung out with a children who had aspirations and who acted with integrity -- the sort of kids who he wanted his son to have as friends. Masur when asked about any problems said that he "never saw any conduct issues that concerned me."
Maria Fisher, Huguely's aunt, talked about how close George was with the rest of his family. She said her son and George Huguely were like brothers, with many of the same interests. They also played on a sports team together.
Fisher described Huguely: "he was a really happy, good natured, normal kid" who was "well loved" and "well respected."
One part of Fisher's testimony that drew an objection from the prosecution was the defense's question about whether Huguely had ever had any disciplinary action. Fisher responded in the negative but the prosecution insisted that it was "hearsay."
Fisher did mention Yeardley Love, saying that the family "loved her" and that she was "always included" in family interactions.
Father Joseph Scordo of the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic church in Charlottesville talked about first learning of the case in newspapers, which he described as "strange and kind of unbelievable." Father Scordo said he found out Yeardley Love was Catholic and eventually one of the priests from the parish attended Love's funeral in Maryland.
Note: Huguely is from Chevy Chase, Md. and Love was from Cockeysville, Md. Next month, Notre Dame Preparatory School plans to dedicate a turf field for field hockey, lacrosse and soccer in honor of Love, who graduated from the school.
Scordo recalled that at some point he got a message (but not a voice) telling him, "you have to go visit that boy." He put it off until seeing George Huguely and Yeardley Love's photos on a magazine in a store. This sight prompted Father Scordo to inquire about whether Huguely would be willing to have a visit from him.
Note: The case has resonated with the national community, being covered by media outlets across the country and featured on the cover of People magazine with the title "Could She Have Been Saved?"
He found out that Huguely would be interested in a visit. Scordo revealed that he had been seeing George Huguely every week for about two years and that Huguely is a practicing Roman Catholic.
Scordo said he found Huguely to be different person than the one he was portrayed as in the media. He refrained form talking to Huguely "about that night, not wanting to get him into any more trouble. He noted that there were cameras in the jail.
Huguely reportedly also told Scordo, "I want the truth. I want the truth, I want the truth to come out."
After a short court recess, the last person, Huguely's uncle took the stand. He said that Huguely was a "leader on the field and off the field" and that others "respected him." He also "can't think of George being selfish" but admitted he didn't see George Huguely as much once he went to college. Huguely's uncle also stressed that he was a person of faith, knowing all the answer to questions during a baptism, and even stepping in to save someone from a potential life or death situation in October 2009.
According to the uncle, "This is a boy who has always given... he's not a taker."
The uncle also stated that he was "not aware of any alcohol problems" before college.
The prosecution in its final statements stressed that with the violent incidents discussed earlier that Huguely "sooner or later was going to seriously injure or kill someone." The attorney got emotional while talking about how Love had the right to wake up the next morning and go about her life, saying that she had a promising future. Now, he said, "There's nothing left but loss and suffering."
Fran Lawrence spoke for the defense, explaining its move about guidelines for juries. But he also brough up the civil suit and talked about the financial aspect which drew an objection from the prosecution. Later, Lawrence gestured to Huguely saying "this man right here is still fighting for his life." He called the case a "3 percent case" driven by a need to have justice for Love.
During the sentencing, Judge Edward Hogshire called the "level of violence palpable" in the case and that even though family and friends described a fun, loving individual that Huguely was a "very different person" when he beat Love and left her in her bedroom to die. Huguely had reportedly been drinking heavily before confronting Love at her off-campus apartment.
Thursday, Judge Hogshire explained that Huguely would serve 23 years for second degree-murder and 1 year for grand larceny, but the grand larceny charge would run concurrently with the 23 year-sentence. Huguely must also pay $5,000 and serve three years of probation.
Sharon and Lexie Love, Yeardley's mother and sister, released a statement on Thursday, which read:
"We would like to thank everyone who worked so tirelessly on Yeardley's behalf. In particular, we would like to thank Dave Chapman for his dedication and compassion. I don't know how we would have gotten through the past two years without him.
We find no joy in others' sorrow. We plan to work diligently through the One Love Foundation to try and prevent this from happening to another family.
We are relieved to put this chapter behind us. Again, we would like to thank everyone for showing us such kindness during the most difficult time of our lives."
George Huguely's family also released a statement:
"Today is a sad day for our family. The past twenty-eight months have been the most difficult in our lives. We love George and will always support him.
We continue to believe what Mr. Lawrence said within hours of meeting George, on May 3, 2010, 'Yeardley's death was not intended but an accident with a tragic outcome.'
Yeardley will always be in our hearts. We hope and pray that the passage of time will bring some semblance of peace and healing to each and everyone who has been affected by this tragedy most especially the Love family."
WVIR: Timeline Of Events Surrounding Yeardley Love's Death