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Jury selection begins in trial of Va. lacrosse player accused of killing ex-girlfriend

By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun –

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — One by one, potential jurors in the murder case against George W. Huguely V, who is accused of beating his former girlfriend to death when they were both University of Virginia students, took the witness stand Monday and revealed just how difficult it could be to seat an impartial jury.

They had all heard about the high-profile case, and several said they had already made up their minds.

“It’s obviously been discussed with my family and friends,” said one young woman whose brother was a U.Va. student when Huguely, a popular lacrosse player, was arrested in May 2010 in the death of Yeardley Love.

Another potential juror said she would have trouble presuming Huguely’s innocence because she feels sorry for Love’s family. And a former headmaster at a girls’ boarding school said his work could bias him toward Love.

Lawyers methodically questioned candidates in Charlottesville Circuit Court while Huguely, who pleaded not guilty at the start of the proceeding, looked on. It was his first court appearance since his arrest in May 2010. Jury selection is to continue Tuesday.

Huguely is accused of killing Love, a government major from Baltimore County, Md., two years ago during an alcohol-fueled confrontation at her off-campus apartment, just weeks before the on-and-off couple were set to graduate. They were both lacrosse players and knew each other as part of an elite crowd of athletes.

Charges against Huguely, 24, include first-degree murder, burglary and grand larceny. He has admitted stealing her laptop, which contained emails sent between them, on his way out of Love’s home, according to police records. Yet he pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday.

His case has become a rallying point for people concerned about domestic violence, who have used it to show that abuse can occur among the well-educated and well-off. Both Huguely, who grew up in Chevy Chase, Md., and Love attended prestigious preparatory schools in Maryland and were thought to have bright futures. But Huguely was struggling with alcohol and anger issues, according to police records. He was arrested twice before for drinking-related infractions, and he threatened violence against officers on one occasion.

That publicized image troubles Huguely’s two attorneys. In court filings, they’ve characterized news coverage as “unprecedented” and prejudicial against their client, who sat between them at the defense table Monday.

“The reporting focused on the sensational aspects of the case,” the defense lawyers wrote in a motion filed late last year. “Mr. Huguely was vilified as a domestic abuser, the product of wealth and privilege, an example of out-of-control ‘lacrosse culture,’ and so on.”

They pointed to headlines in local newspapers saying “Huguely attacked teammate,” “Huguely … was a man of privilege, rage,” and “Love had a growing fear of Huguely.” They also blamed police for not quashing erroneous reports.

The day after Huguely’s arrest, a reporter asked Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. about an apparently false rumor that Love had been strangled, and he refused to confirm or deny it, which may have allowed it to flourish.

A potential juror in the case repeated it Monday, saying he remembered reading that Love was “strangled or she was choked.” The man also underscored how small Charlottesville, which has about 41,000 residents, can be, saying his son had played sports with one of the prosecutor’s children. Still, the jury candidate said he could be impartial and consider the evidence objectively.

Another candidate, a University of Virginia faculty member, said the same earlier in the day, though he acknowledged that the case is painful for many of his colleagues. “It gets my institution in the news in an unfortunate light,” he said.

Huguely’s lawyers are expected to argue that Love was taking prescription medication and drinking the night she died, which may have contributed to her death. Huguely has admitted to police that he fought with Love that night, shaking her repeatedly so that her head hit a wall, but he denies killing her.

“It is undisputed that a man hurt a woman. It is undisputed, that is fact,” Rhonda Quagliana, one of Huguely’s lawyers, said during jury questioning. She also said the “cause of death is a contested issue in this case.”

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