The state Court of Appeals has agreed to hear two grounds of appeal by former University of Virginia lacrosse player George W. Huguely V, who was convicted of murdering fellow student-athlete Yeardley Love.
But the single, unidentified judge who assessed the case also declined to accept the appeal on six other elements. Those included key allegations by Huguely's defense team that there was insufficient evidence to support a murder conviction in Love's 2010 death and that jurors should have been sequestered during the nationally publicized trial.
Instead, a 14-page decision accepted as grounds for appeal the failure by the trial court to exclude a single, potentially biased juror and to the argument that Huguely was denied a right to counsel when one of his lawyers became ill during the trial in Charlottesville last summer.
The appeal decision can be challenged by Huguely's defense team or by Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney David Chapman, whose office said Friday that Chapman has not received a copy of the opinion and would not comment.
Washington attorney Paul D. Clement, who is handling the appeal with Richmond lawyer Craig Cooley, said: "We are delighted that the Court of Appeals granted our petition for appeal. Although we may ask the court to broaden the appeal, the Court of Appeals' action underscores that there are serious issues about whether George received a fair trial that complied with his constitutional rights.
"We look forward to proceeding with the appeal on the merits, and we remain hopeful that the Court of Appeals will order a new trial," Clement said.
Huguely, 25, is serving a 23-year sentence imposed in August after jurors found him guilty of second-degree murder in Love's May 2010 death. Love, who also played lacrosse for U.Va., was 22 when she died.
The appeals court, in a decision dated Tuesday, granted an appeal based on defense arguments that the court should have struck a juror because of apparent doubts about her impartiality. The court also said it would agree to examine if Huguely was effectively denied a right to counsel when one of his defense lawyers became sick during trial.
On another key issue, though, the court concluded that there was "ample evidence" of Huguely's malice toward Love and sufficient grounds to support a murder conviction. Huguely's legal team, at trial and on appeal, argued that the evidence supported a crime no more serious than manslaughter.
But the appeals court's decision describes at length the "turbulent relationship" shared by Huguely and Love, reviewing incidents in February 2010 when Huguely held Love down "with his arm around her neck to prevent her from leaving his room."
Huguely and Love were at odds in April 2010 over Huguely's alleged involvement with other young women, and Love hit him with her purse. Love apologized by email, the court recalled, but the relationship "deteriorated such that, two days before her death, (Huguely) stated, 'I should have killed you.'"
The court also detailed Huguely's interview with police the morning her body was found in bed in a pool of blood by a friend and Huguely's denial that he had seriously harmed Love. But the court, referring to Love's many wounds, said "the injuries alone speak to the brutal force (the) appellant used and demonstrate a purposeful, willful, cruel series of intentional acts likely to cause great bodily harm."
The decision also explicitly explores and defeats grounds for appeal that included the argument the jury should have been sequestered; that defense lawyers should have been able to explore the effect on potential jurors of unflattering evidence about Love; that five jurors should have been struck for bias; that the definition of malice was not properly provided to jurors by the court; and that the defense was not properly informed of a $30 million civil suit contemplated by the Love family that could have been used by lawyers as grounds for challenging their testimony.
Love, from a Baltimore suburb, and Huguely, from a Maryland suburb of Washington, were both seniors nearing graduation at the university in May 2010. Both had been star athletes at their respective high schools and considered engaging students with broad interests and bright futures.
Huguely, however, was portrayed by prosecutors as a reckless drinker who, in the hours before breaking through Love's locked door, was mindlessly drunk, urinated in public and then the next morning denied to police confronting Love with sufficient force to kill her.
But a downstairs neighbor of Love's described hearing a huge crash in Love's apartment and then seeing a man stumble across an adjacent parking lot. A friend of Love's found her body in the early hours of May 3 facedown in bed, her arms at her sides with both palms facing upward toward the ceiling.
Love's death and an earlier, violent confrontation Huguely had with Lexington police helped prompt new laws and policies in Virginia requiring notification of school officials of a student's being charged with criminal activity in another jurisdiction. Virginia also broadened the definition of people able to obtain protective orders to include those who dated an abuser.
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