Expert Debate: Will George Huguely Face Death Penalty?

Exclusive: Family visits UVA lacrosse player accused of murder in jail.

May 07, 2010, 4:47 PM

May 10, 2010 — -- The sun may have been shining on the UVA men's lacrosse team as they took to the field for practice Sunday, but the #1 ranked team is playing in the shadow of a grisly murder and the possibility that one of their own could face the death penalty.

Fourth year lacrosse player George Huguely stands accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend Yeardley Love, who played for the UVA womens lacrosse team, last week. If convicted, it's a crime that could cost Huguely his life, former prosecutor Robin Sax said.

"It's certainly a possibility right now, especially when the defense came right out of the bank and says that this may be an accident," Sax told "Good Morning America" today. "This is only something that could incite and inflame the prosecutors to consider the death penalty.

"You don't even necessarily need to have premeditated murder here... This is law school 101. This is a felony murder that happened in the course of a burglary," she said.

Police said the Huguely told them he took Love's computer -- which he said contained messages from Huguely -- after the couple had an altercation in the apartment the night she was killed.

But to defense attorney Mark Geragos, who is not connected to this case, the severity of the charge may hinge on Huguely's mental state at the time of the attack -- a state that he says does not likely merit the death penalty.

"This is not the type of case that generally prosecutors will seek the death penalty in," Geragos said. "He's going to argue, 'Well, I had no intent to kill and I didn't have malice. I never wanted to kill her. I loved her.'

"The defense in this case is going to try and fight this out on the mental element as to whether or not [he] had malice," he said.

Murder without malice equals a reduced sentence of manslaughter, Geragos said.

But Sax said the fact that Huguely's had previous violent incidents will not help his chances.

"That's something that will definitely be thought out," she said. "I think either way it doesn't help him. It will certainly hurt him, having some sort of prior altercation."

Yeardley Love, the promising young athlete that was found in a pool of her own blood in bed last week, was laid to rest near her family's home in Baltimore last weekend.

Family, friends, former classmates and lacrosse teammates filled Cathedral of Mary Our Queen in Baltimore for a 90-minute funeral service closed to members of the media, The Associated Press reported. The service was followed by a private burial.

The service came after her friends gathered Friday evening in Towson, Maryland for Love's wake.

"Nobody wants to hear that such a sweet girl has suffered through such tragedy," said Love's friend, Allie Stack, on Friday.

"The whole family loved to laugh," said a family friend, Leigh Erlandson, "and it's going to be a long time until they can laugh again."

For Love's family, her mother Sharon and older sister Lexie, the last week has likely been nothing short of a nightmare, beginning with the gruesome discovery early Monday morning of Love's body, face-down and bloodied in her bed.

Scheduled to graduate on May 23 with the rest of her class, Love now will receive her degree posthumously.

Police first were called to Love's off-campus apartment at 2:15 a.m. by her roommates, who suspected that she may have just had too much to drink. But when authorities were unsuccessful reviving Love, evidence of trauma became clear and they arrested Huguely at his own apartment just a few blocks away.

Waiving his Miranda rights, Huguely told Charlottesville police that he had kicked through a door on his way to Love's bedroom. Police reported that it looked like the door to her room had been punched through, with hairs still visible hear the hole. Huguely had cuts on his leg, according to the court documents.

He told police he and Love had broken up and that he had communicated with her through e-mails. Before leaving her room, Huguely told police, according to the documents, he took her communications and "disposed of it." The police document says Huguely told investigators where to find Love's computer.

Police later reportedly seized a red-stained lacrosse T-shirt from Huguely's apartment, along with a shower curtain and a letter addressed to Love.

Huguely was charged with first-degree murder and held without bond.

Huguely's lawyer said during a bond hearing that Love's death was an "accident."

"We are confident that Ms. Love's death was not intended, but an accident with a tragic outcome," said Francis Lawrence, Huguely's lawyer.

Love's family has remained silent on the murder, requesting privacy while they mourn. Love's uncle, Granville Swope, a star lacrosse player in own right, told ABC News that his niece was a "delightful lady in every respect."

Friends of Love's describe her as a "kind and genuine" and University President John Casteen called her "a student of uncommon talent and promise."

Yeardley Love's Accused Murderer Had Troubled Past

While university officials have said that they were not aware of any past issues Huguely had with the law, the 22-year-old had been picked up on several charges before last week.

In December 2008 Huguely's temper was in full display when his father, George Huguely IV, called Florida police to the family's yacht with a domestic abuse complaint.

When police motored out to the yacht, George Huguely V jumped into the Atlantic Ocean and began swimming to shore, according to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office.

The family's 40-foot yacht, named "The Real Deal," was a quarter of a mile off shore from the glamorous Ritz Carlton Hotel, police said.

No arrests were made, and Huguely was picked up by a passing boater without injury. The incident occurred not far from the family's million-dollar estate in the wealthy coastal town of Manalapan, Fla.

Also in 2008, Lexington, Virginia, Police Officer Rebecca Moss wound up on the ground, wrestling with Huguely during an arrest in 2008 that ended with a conviction for public intoxication and resisting arrest.

Moss said she was forced to use a Taser on the 6-foot-2, 209-pound Huguely after he hurled racial and sexual obscenities at her and threatened her life, telling the officer, "I'll kill you. I'll kill all of y'all. I'm not going to jail."

Huguely had two other run-ins with the law. In September 2007 he was booked for reckless driving after speeding at 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. In November 2007, he was arrested for possession of alcohol as a minor when he was 19.

Both Huguely and Love came from a world of privilege, each attending elite private high schools in the Washington, D.C., area.

Enjoying vacations in Palm Beach and being cared for by a nanny, Huguely came from a long line of Huguely men, many of whom are successful businessmen. His high school, the Landon School, has an annual price tag of nearly $30,000.

Love was raised just outside of Baltimore, in Cockeysville, Md., and attended the girls' school Notre Dame Prep. Her father, John Love III, passed away in 2003 from prostate cancer.

For information on domestic violence, click here to visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline Web site and here for the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events