The future of former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V, convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend, is now in the hands of a three-judge panel.
The panel of judges must unanimously decide if there are grounds for a new trial. If they decide against a new trial, Huguely will have to serve out the rest of his 23 year prison sentence. Their decision is expected in two to four weeks.
Huguely was convicted of killing ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love, 22, in a drunken rage in May 2010 just weeks before she was to graduate from the University of Virginia. Both Huguely and Love were star lacrosse players on the university's elite teams.
"This was one of the most sensationalized cases in Charlottesville and in that context, this case should have been made more fair, clear and balanced," Huguely's attorney Paul Clement said in a Richmond state appeals court today.
Defense attorneys and prosecutors spent nearly an hour today debating whether Huguely's rights had been violated in his original trial.
Huguely, 26, was not in the courtroom, but his family, including his parents, grandmother, aunt and sister, were all in court to support him. The hearing was moved into the state supreme court building to accommodate all of the people who came.
"Our family has faith in the legal system and looks forward to the Court of Appeals' decision," Huguely's mother Marta Murphy said in a statement. "We love and support George."
Love's family was not present for today's hearing.
In April, the court granted the appeal on the defense's arguments that Huguely was denied his right to counsel when the trial was forced to proceed despite one of his lead attorney's illness nine days into the trial. The lawyers also argued that the jury was not fair and impartial.
Prosecutors argued that Huguely's rights were not violated.
"Put simply, the prejudice argument was never presented to the trial court during Huguely's trial so there was no prejudice," an attorney for the state said today.
Huguely was convicted of second-degree murder and grand larceny in February 2012 for the beating death of Love. He was sentenced to 23 years for murder, plus one concurrent year for the grand larceny conviction in August 2012 for stealing her computer.
Through a 12 day trial in February 2012, jurors listened to testimony from nearly 60 witnesses and saw a video of Huguely's police statement, graphic photos of Love's battered body, and read text and email correspondence between the two.
Though charged with first-degree murder, the judge gave jurors a menu of lesser charges they could choose from: second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Neither the prosecution nor the defense denied that Huguely was in Love's room the night of her death and was involved in an altercation with her. They differed on the severity of the encounter and whether Huguely was directly and intentionally responsible for Love's death.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors painted a portrait of Huguely as a violent and enraged man who savagely beat Love in her bedroom and left her there to die. Prosecutors claimed that Love died from blunt force trauma to the head.
The defense depicted Huguely as a troubled young man whose problems with alcohol spiraled out of control. They described Huguely and Love's relationship as mutually tempestuous, with both of them jilting and betraying each other. They maintained that Huguely went to Love's bedroom with the intention to talk to her. While things got heated and he pushed her around a bit, he did not do anything severe enough to kill her, his legal team argued.
During deliberations, jurors had the option of looking at evidence from the trial again, including Huguely's video-taped statement to the police hours after Love's death. Huguely said he and Love had wrestled on the floor, but that he never struck her.
Before finding out Love was dead, Huguely told police in his video-taped statement that when he went to see his former girlfriend the night of her death he told her to "chill out" and "shook her a little."
"We were just going to talk," Huguely told the officer in the video. "It was not at all a good conversation."