Inside the Jury That Convicted UVA Student George Huguely of Murder
The forewoman of the jury tells how they reached their verdict.
Having eliminated voluntary manslaughter, the jury also eliminated first-degree murder on the grounds that his threatening email to Love “was not enough proof to indicate it was premeditated.”
Nor did the jury believe Huguely was too drunk to know what he was doing, which ruled out involuntary manslaughter. Though he admitted to drinking heavily during the day and witnesses painted a picture of a sodden Huguely hitting the links with his father earlier that morning, “No one took a blood alcohol level [test], that we saw in the evidence,” Gruia says. Moreover, the jury saw copies of text messages he sent after he’d been to Love’s apartment that night. “Those texts were legible and coherent. He wasn’t passed out. He wasn’t blacked out. He was with it. And while yes, alcohol may have made him heightened in terms of his emotional state, it didn’t incapacitate him from the ability to call someone for help or get help.
“It could have ended very differently if he had compassion,” Gruia says.
Hence, second-degree murder.
The racially mixed jury, which included a pediatrician, a nurse, a UVA graduate student, “a few academics,” as well as Gruia, a 36-year-old graphic designer and mother of two, also saw emails and texts that Love and Huguely exchanged—“end-of-relationship-type emails,” she says. “They were both trying to hurt each other with their words,” she says, citing degrading comments like “filthy whore,” “cunt,” and the frequent use of the word “fuck.” “I don’t think anyone was trying to say it was one-sided. You do have to take a step away from your idea of a normal relationship. People who love each other aren’t angry or aggressive with each other. They don’t use this kind of language and then forget about it and go on with the romance. I classify that as drama,” she says.
But as alienating as those raw exchanges might have been, Gruia says the jury took exception to Huguely’s lawyer using them to “downplay every action that George took.”
“He’d say, ‘That’s just what kids do,’ ” Gruia says, speaking of Lawrence’s defense argument. “We had a juror who went to UVA and he and his friends drank a lot. He said that kind of behavior of kicking down the door is not normal. That should not be a characterization of students at UVA. For anyone to suggest that is normal is so offensive. The defense’s whole approach in that regard was not appropriate.”
In Gruia’s view, the strongest part of Huguely’s defense was simply the fact that the burden of proof rested on the prosecution.
As for the prosecution, which relied heavily on medical experts to pinpoint the cause of Love’s death as blunt force trauma, Gruia credits the physical evidence, instead. “It did a lot of the work.”
“[The prosecutor] proved to us that the injuries she sustained were not there when her roommates left [that night.] His DNA was on the door, his hairs in the door.” And of course, there was his dissembling to police. The jury took the expert medical testimony under consideration, she says, but “we all agreed that the actions George Huguely took started the chain of actions that led to her death and we found those actions to be malicious. The technicalities of the things that happened to her body after she received those injuries didn’t matter to us. He created those situations.”
The most emotionally grueling part of the trial was listening to Love’s mother and sister take the stand to describe life after Yeardley. The prosecution also introduced evidence of Huguely’s prior convictions in Lexington, Va., a drunken incident that led a police officer to Taser him in the street as he resisted arrest. No one from his family spoke on Huguely’s behalf. Gruia and other jurors found that strange.
Unaware that their sentencing deliberations would be treated as recommendations—Huguely will return to Judge Hogshire’s court for a sentencing hearing on April 16—the jury swung between five and 40 years for the murder conviction. By imagining worst and best case scenarios—someone killing a child, in the former example; two drunk men fighting and one getting a fatal blow to the head in the other—they worked for another two hours to figure out where Huguely’s actions fit on the spectrum. Ultimately they recommended 25 years for Love’s death and one year for the grand larceny of her laptop. Was it emotional in there? “When her family was talking, you think about your own lives,” says Gruia, audibly choking up. “It’s not just that family, it’s the other family, too. You think about this boy-man. A lot of us have kids; he made some bad choices that have consequences. We sentenced him to 26 years. His life will be half over. His parents might not be around.
“But you can’t let emotion dictate what you do,” she says, pushing back the tears. “Yes, as a human, but not in the law.”