By DENISE LAVOIE AP Legal Affairs Writer
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — In her 9th-grade essay, Yeardley Love wrote about what she wanted to do with her life: to attend the University of Virginia, to play lacrosse there, to become a lawyer and to maintain her close relationship with her family.
Many of her dreams came true, but ended abruptly and violently when she was brutally beaten by her boyfriend, a lawyer for Love’s family told a jury Tuesday in the civil trial of the man convicted in her killing.
George Huguely V was convicted of second-degree murder and is serving a 23-year prison sentence in Love’s slaying. Yeardley and Hugely both played lacrosse at UVA and were weeks away from graduation when Yeardley was found dead in her off-campus apartment in 2010.
A wrongful death lawsuit brought by Love’s mother, Sharon Love, seeks to hold him civilly liable for her daughter’s death. The lawsuit is seeking $29.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.
As the civil trial got underway, Paul Bekman, a lawyer for Love’s family, showed the jury happy photos of Love with her mother and sister. He described a kind, thoughtful and caring young woman who played lacrosse, joined a sorority and kept up with a rigorous academic schedule at UVA while making sure to speak with her family almost every day.
Bekman told the jury that Love and Huguely had dated for two years, but had a “rocky relationship” that was marred by Huguely’s excessive drinking. He said fellow students will testify about earlier violent episodes when Huguely was drunk, including one that happened about a month or two before Yeardley was killed, when visiting lacrosse players from North Carolina heard Love yell, “Help, I can’t breathe,” and walked in to Huguely’s bedroom to find Huguely with his “hands around her neck.”
Bekman showed the jury graphic crime scene photos of Love as she lay dead on her bedroom floor, with her right eye bashed in, her face bloody, and marks on her shoulder and neck. Love’s mother and sister left the courtroom just before the photos were shown and cried softly during several other portions of the opening statements.
A medical examiner determined that Love died from blunt-force injuries to her head.
“She died as a result of a vicious and brutal beating,” Bekman said.
Huguely’s attorney, Matthew Green, told jurors that Huguely admits he assaulted Love and that her family is entitled to compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by the jury. But he said the defense will argue that Huguely’s actions did not amount to the “willful and wanton” conduct that is required to award punitive damages. In fact, Green said, Huguely did not intend to cause Love’s death.
Green urged the jury to focus on the approximately eight to 10 minutes Huguely spent in Love’s apartment the night she was killed. He said Huguely was a “party animal” who began drinking right after the UVA men’s lacrosse team played its final game on May 1, 2010. Huguely’s family was in town for “senior day,” and he spent the next 30 hours consuming 45 to 50 drinks, using a “conservative estimate,” Green said.
The following day, Love and Huguely exchanged angry, “immature emails,” but had patched things up by that night and were seen on video holding hands as they spent time with Huguely’s family at a bar, Green said. Then, about 11:45 p.m., a drunken Huguely went to Love’s apartment, where he kicked in her bedroom door.
During questioning by police early the next morning, Huguely said he only went to Love’s apartment to talk to her, but their argument quickly turned physical. Huguely said Love’s head hit the wall and they wrestled on the floor, but that when he left, she only had a bloody nose. Her roommates found her dead about two hours later.
Green said Love’s visible injuries were limited to the right side of her face, which he said is “consistent with a single impact, some kind of a fall where her face impacts the floor.”
Green said that when police told Huguely that Love was dead, his videotaped interview shows that “he just doesn’t believe it.”
“It’s clear he had no understanding a fatal event had happened,” Green said.
Green said the jury in Huguely’s criminal trial rejected a first-degree murder charge and instead found him guilty of second-degree murder. He is about halfway through his 23-year prison sentence.
“Justice has been done,” Green said.
The lawsuit was initially filed in 2012, but was later voluntarily dismissed and then refiled in 2018.