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For Huguely defense, alcohol may play role

Past cases suggest difficulties proving premeditation with intoxicated defendant

Two facts became clear after George Huguely's gripping, surreal nine-hour preliminary hearing Monday: Huguely's defense attorneys will continue to argue persistently that Yeardley Love's death was an accident, and Huguely was highly intoxicated the night he admitted to kicking down the door of Love's bedroom and "shook" Love, allowing her head "to repeatedly hit the wall," according to an affidavit.

David Heilberg, a Charlottesville defense attorney who was not present at the hearing and is not involved in the case, said the fact that witnesses said Huguely was intoxicated may make it more difficult to prove premeditation, which would be required to convict for first-degree murder.

"Intoxication doesn't make a killing unintentional," said Heilberg, who also serves as president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. "What it does is it can negate the element of premeditation."

Heilberg recalled two clients of his who have escaped conviction because of an unusual defense: They were drunk. A 65-year-old woman alleged to have tried smothering her mother in a nursing home was convicted in 2008 of only attempted murder. And in December, a judge did not convict a man of attempted capital murder for allegedly speeding the wrong way on I-64 straight toward a police officer without swerving.

"Intoxication is not a defense for any crime in Virginia except first-degree murder," Heilberg said.

Numerous accounts of Huguely's actions indicate he drank throughout the day and was decidedly intoxicated in the evening and well into the night. Kevin Carroll, Huguely's roommate, testified he saw Huguely drinking at 10 a.m. the morning of May 2, before a father-son golf tournament for the team at Wintergreen Resort.

"He seemed like he was starting to get a little bit drunk," Carroll said.

All his teammates who testified described Huguely as drunk by the evening hours, and Will Bolton said he entered Carroll's apartment shortly after midnight to see Huguely, whom he described as drunk, urinating in the bathroom with the door still open while wearing just his boxers. Earlier that night, a man matching Huguely's description was seen leaving Love's apartment complex wearing a bright blue shirt, shorts and white tennis shoes.

Still, his teammates did not say Huguely was particularly rowdy or aggressive. In his opening statement, Fran Lawrence, Huguely's defense attorney, noted that during the night, Huguely had consumed too much alcohol, but was "not otherwise acting differently." When asked about Huguely's condition after a round of golf, Carroll said Huguely was "definitely drunk," but could not point to any conduct that led him to believe this.

"I can't recall any specifics," he said.

Chris Clements, a teammate of Huguely's, saw Huguely sitting calmly on his bed shirtless while holding his cell phone at 10:30 p.m., shortly before the man matching his description was seen exiting Love's apartment complex. And later, Clements said he heard Huguely walking down the steps to his apartment and assumed it was him by the distinct way he was walking. Clements, who spent the entire night working on a paper, locked his door when he heard Huguely approach and told Huguely through the door to go away.

The next morning, when Charlottesville Police Detective Lisa Reeves arrived at Huguely's apartment at around 7:45 a.m., Huguely remained calm, Reeves testified. He put on his shoes, followed Reeves to her police car and rode to the police station. Huguely did not ask questions during the drive to the police station and did not show reluctance to follow Reeves into the interrogation room. Reeves noted during the drive to the police station, however, that she could smell alcohol on his breath.

A camera in the interrogation room recorded the conversation between Reeves and Huguely, and during his opening statement at the preliminary hearing Monday, Lawrence said Huguely did not know Love had died until Reeves told him one hour into their interview.

"She's dead, George. You killed her," Reeves told Huguely, according to Lawrence.

Huguely reacted in shock. "She's not dead. I didn't, I didn't, I didn't," he said, according to Lawrence.

Lawrence said Huguely's reaction demonstrated that Huguely never intended to kill Love, an argument which appears to push most strongly for manslaughter.

Should a jury agree with Lawrence that Love's death was an accident, he may be convicted of second-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of 40 years, or manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Heilberg said Huguely's preliminary hearing was exceptional in almost every way, and during the nearly 30 years he has spent practicing in Charlottesville, he has not heard of anything like it.\n"Everything about this preliminary was highly unusual," he said.

He could not recall any hearing lasting nearly as long as Huguely's did, nor could he recall an instance where officials moved a General District Court case to the Circuit Court to allow for more spectators.

It remains plausible, he said, that a plea deal which settles the case before trial might be worked out, but now that the preliminary hearing has taken place, a trial must begin within five months - a restriction which stems from a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a speedy trial.

The case now advances to a grand jury, which convenes Monday and will again assess the evidence to determine whether the case should proceed to trial.


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