Legal Analysis of the Botched Early Defense of George Huguely

The Baltimore community, as well as the entire nation, is sickened by the senseless murder of Notre Dame Prep and University of Virginia student-athlete Yeardley Love. Although news reports are often inaccurate in the early stages of a criminal investigation, it appears from a reading of the application in support of the search and seizure warrant filed by the Charlottesville police, that the facts in this case are relatively straightforward.

At one time, Ms. Love, a women’s varsity lacrosse player, was dating a member of the men’s counterpart at the University of Virginia. The relationship went south and apparently Huguely was not happy with that development. He sent what will likely turn out to be incriminating emails to Love on the evening of the murder. He was so enraged by her responses, or lack thereof, that he felt compelled to pay her a visit in the early morning hours. He kicked in her door and repeatedly bashed her head against the wall with such force that he caused lethal injury. Hugely is a reported 6’2″ and 210 pounds.

While leaving the scene, Huguely took off with Love’s computer-presumably to conceal the earlier email exchange. It should also be noted that Huguely never called the police. Instead, I have learned through reliable sources in the Baltimore community, Huguely knocked on the door of another fellow student around 2:00am and slept on his couch. Huguely was reported to have been drinking earlier.

Fast forward to Huguely’s Tuesday morning bail review. His lawyers tactically delayed the bail review because 1) there was no chance Huguely would get a bail and 2) they did not want additional facts aired in public before the defense lawyers could try to spin the facts . As a criminal defense lawyer who has handled many high-profile cases, I can not blame them for this tactic. What I do criticize is the defense attorney’s public statement that followed the waived hearing:

“Until more information becomes available, it is our hope that no conclusion will be drawn or judgment made about George or his case,” the defense lawyer said. “However, we are confident that Ms. Love’s death was not intended, but an accident with a tragic outcome.”

The first part of this statement about not rushing to judgment is appropriate and it should have ended at that. For the defense attorney to characterize this murder as an “accident” at this early stage only serves to enrage the public and the victim’s family as well as bait the prosecution to seek the death penalty. Also by tipping an early hand, the defense attorney has provided the police with the investigative road map they should take to focus on disproving this poorly thought out defense. The defense also hurt it’s chances of convincing anyone of a sincere insanity plea down the road by taking this approach.

By stating this was an “accident”, the defense has overlooked a critical element of this case. This was at the very minimum a burglary. Huguely broke down the door and stole Love’s computer. Burglary is the breaking and entering of the dwelling of another with intent to commit a felony therein. Hugely has no way around that. He admitted to the police he kicked the door down and forced entry. His DNA will be found on the hair follicles left in the hole in the door. He admitted to the police he took the computer and he even told the police where he ditched the computer. No doubt his finger prints are all over the computer as well.

Now that a burglary has been committed, even if the death of Love was an “accident” as the defense attorney wants us to believe, it was a death that occurred during the course of a burglary. Any law student knows that makes a classic case for felony murder.

A felony murder is murder in the first degree when committed during the course of a burglary. It does not matter whether the death of Love was “accidental”, intended, or not intended. All that matters is that her death occurred during the course of a burglary. The law recognises any death during the course of burglary as foreseeable-whether intended or not. First degree murder in Virginia is punishable by death. I am not sure how the defense, albeit early, overlooked this. Calling this an “accident” just adds fuel to the fire. If ever there was a case that called for silence and patience by the defense for the facts to develop, this is the case. With that said, I only hope justice will be served.

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