A brain expert testifying for the defense in George Huguely's murder trial claimed that Yeardley Love died by suffocating in her pillow after a day of heavy drinking, contradicting the prosecution's claim that Love died from a powerful blow to her head.
Neuropathologist Dr. Jan Leestma told the court that Love's cause of death was deprivation of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Love was found bloody and face-down in a pillow, which would make breathing very difficult, Leestma said.
The doctor testified that the combination of Love's position and her pillow being wet from blood could have produced the lack of oxygen that led to suffocating.
This testimony is in stark contrast to the prosecution's claim that Huguely beat Love severely and then left her to die. Experts for the prosecution said that Love died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Leestma followed the defense's first witness, toxicologist Alphonse Polkis who focused on Love's blood alcohol level the night she died.
"She would've been impaired," Polkis said, referring to her judgment, coordination and emotional control with her blood alcohol level that was between 0.16 and 0.18.
Huguely's defense attorneys opened their case today with a heated exhange that briefly halted the trial.
After some shouting in the courtroom, jurors were asked to step out and the judge soon followed, leaving the attorneys inside. The audio to the media's viewing room was temporarily cut off, leaving questions as to what caused the unusual halt in proceedings.
Before the outburst, the defense asked that the first-degree murder charge and other lesser charges, be dismissed. The judge denied the motions.
"There is ample evidence to support a jury finding in all of the charges in this case," the judge said.
Earlier today, the prosecution rested its case following testimony from a number of Huguely's friends and University of Virginia lacrosse teammates.
Huguely teammate Ken Clausen testified that Huguely lied to him about where he was the night of Love's death. Huguely allegedly told Clausen that he had been in a different apartment in the building with another friend, Chris Clements, who Huguely claimed was drunk.
Clements, however, testified that he had a paper to write that day and had not had a drink all day. Clements said Huguely had banged on his door at 11:30 p.m., but he told Huguely to "go away" since he was writing his paper.
"There was no reason to lie about something like that," Clausen said, realizing that Huguely's story "wasn't adding up."
Clausen recalled asking Huguely, "What is wrong with you?" when Huguely came back to the apartment at around 12:15 a.m. Clausen did not know at the time, but Huguely was returning from his encounter with Love at her apartment.
Huguely was unresponsive.
"I asked him two more times. I got no response," Clausen testified, remembering Huguely's "blank stare."
Clausen also said that Huguely's behavior in the months leading up to Love's death had been increasingly unusual. He said Huguely's drinking was getting "ridiculous" and that he was belligerent.
Clausen's testimony was one in a line-up of Huguely's friends and teammates who dominated the courtroom today with their testimony about their contacts with Huguely the weekend of Love's death.
Three women testified about text messages they exchanged with Huguely the day before Love's death and in the hours before Huguely went to her apartment. The texts were shown only to the jurors and judge, but they were characterized as "playful" and made it seem as though Huguely had been seeking company before going to Love's apartment.
As the prosecution wrapped up its case, they called a detective to the stand who identified the last two starkly different items submitted as evidence: Love's body bag tag and a photo of her.
Prosecutors questioned nearly 50 people over about five and a half days in court.
"We know that he was in that room, that there was some conduct that caused death and the issue is what was in his mind?" University of Virginia law professor Anne Coughlin told ABCNews.com today.
"I think the jury will be persuaded that [Huguely] engaged in conduct that caused her death and there was some sufficient culpability," Coughlin said. "The issue is how culpable. How culpable was his mental state?"
Though Huguely , 24, was charged with first degree murder, along with five other charges, Coughlin anticipates that the judge will present the jurors with instructions that include a menu of options that include second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter.
Based on what Huguely is ultimately charged with, he faces anywhere from one year to life in prison.
"So you can see the stakes involved for both sides," Coughlin said. "It's huge. And it all comes down to his mental state."
Love, 22, was a star lacrosse player at the school and a senior just weeks away from graduation. Huguely was also a lacrosse player for the school's nationally ranked team.
Defense Rests in George Huguely Murder Trial
Today's witnesses follow a day of medical testimony in which the physical cause of Love's death was dissected by forensic pathologists and brain experts.
A brain expert who dissected Love's brain testified on Tuesday that Love experienced an injury of such great force that it "twisted" the blood vessels in her brain, causing the brain to hemorrhage.
Dr. Christine Fuller, a neuropathologist, said there was no indication of a natural cause of death and that the level of brain injury, bleeding and damage on Love's brain was caused by a powerful blow to the head.
A great amount of force is needed to twist the brain's blood vessels, more than could be sustained from falling on the ground. The injury was consistent with a head banging against a wall, Fuller said.
Love's official cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.