Huguely Trial Day 8: Prosecution Rests, Defense Witnesses Begin
The prosecution rested its case, and the defense started presenting evidence Wednesday in the George Huguely murder trial. Huguely is accused of murder in the 2010 death of his ex-girlfriend, UVA lacrosse player Yeardley Love.
A medical expert for the defense is disputing the medical examiner's official cause of death for Love. Doctor Jan Leestma said Love suffocated as she laid face down on her pillow, which was soaked with blood.
According to him, she died from deprivation of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Doctors for the prosecution testified she died as a result of blunt force trauma to the head. The defense also said Love was clinically intoxicated when Huguely was with her.
Earlier in the day, the commonwealth rested, rounding out its case with testimony from Huguely's former lacrosse teammates. They painted a picture of Huguely's out-of-control final days as an undergrad at UVA.
We heard - yet again - about Huguely's drinking problem. Friends were going to intervene, but it wasn't soon enough.
The most damning testimony Wednesday came from Ken Clausen. The former UVA lacrosse player was Love's friend and detailed the alcohol infused day leading up to her death.
At 11 a.m., Clausen saw Huguely with a beer in hand outside his 14th Street apartment.
At noon, the men's lacrosse team took to the Wintergreen golf course. Huguely was described as being drunk.
At 7:30 p.m., Huguely, his father and friends attended dinner at C&O Restaurant. Huguely caused a scene when he dropped a bottle of wine.
At 11:40 p.m., Clausen and a friend left Huguely's apartment to get beer at the corner market. When they returned, Huguely was gone.
Clausen told the jury that when Huguely returned - sometime after midnight - Huguely said he was at a fellow teammate's apartment. When confronted about that story, Clausen said Huguely had a blank stare on his face and then repeatedly said nothing was wrong.
Sexual text messages also came to light in court. Kaitlyn Taylor - who lived in Huguely's apartment building - testified that she got texts on her iPhone from Huguely on the Saturday night before Love's death.
Huguely also banged on her door and window that night until he was told to go away. The verbatim of the messages to Taylor and ones found on another woman's blackberry were not read aloud in court. They were put on a monitor, and Huguely wouldn't look at them.
Also Wednesday, the defense made a motion to dismiss all charges except the grand larceny charge. The jury was removed from the courtroom while the motion was heard.
NBC29 legal expert Lloyd Snook says this defense strategy is common but rarely successful. "A motion to strike says 'judge, the commonwealth hasn't proved their case in the following regards.' For example, they haven't proven that there was, there was an intent to kill, they haven't proven premeditation - strike it and bust it down to second degree."
Judge Hogshire overruled the motion to reduce or dismiss charges, saying there has been ample evidence to find in favor of the commonwealth's case against Huguely. The defense continues its case Wednesday morning.
Follow @NBC29Huguely on Twitter for updates from the courtroom throughout the day.
Prosecution Witness Testimony:
James Sacco, the owner of Snooky's pawnshop, was the first to testify this morning. He testified about the value of the Love's computer, saying that the laptop would have a fair market value of $250 - $350 back in May of 2010. Huguely is also charged with grand larceny for taking the laptop.
The Defense cross-examined Sacco about the value of the computer, specifically pointed out the lower quality components of Love's model. Sacco stands by his previous estimate.
Huguely's neighbor Kaitlyn Taylor took the stand next. She testified that Huguely banged on her door and window late the night before Love died. She also said Huguely sent her text messages Sunday during his golf outing. Those texts were projected on a screen in the courtroom for the jury, but they were not visible to the courtroom audience nor were they read aloud.
Following the review of those messages, the defense asked Taylor if she really had a boyfriend in Charlotte. She testified that she was telling the truth. She then said that the man Huguely saw going into her apartment the Saturday before Love died was her cousin. Lawrence asked her if she would characterize the text messages were "playful" in nature, and she said yes.
The next witness was Brea Thomas. She told the court she had contact with Huguely once or twice a week though Blackberry Messenger (BBM). She said the last message she received from Huguely was at 10:03 p.m. the night Love died. Thomas says she was in the library and responded to Huguely at 11:22 p.m.
Huguely's roommate Kevin Carroll was next on the stand. He testified about the events Sunday and how Huguely was acting before Love's death. Carroll testified he and Clausen went to get beer around 11:40 p.m. at the Corner Market. He says they returned shortly after, then around 12:15 a.m., Huguely walked back in to the apartment.
Carroll testified Huguely told him he was downstairs in the apartment building with another friend but couldn't remember exactly what Huguely said. The prosecution handed him a copy of what he had told police, specifically on what Huguely said once he returned to their apartment. Carroll said he did not notice anything in particular about Huguely, but he seemed "really, really drunk" and had a beer.
Ken Clausen, a UVA lacrosse player, teammate of Huguely's, and pallbearer at Love's funeral, testified next about the golf trip and dinner the Sunday before Love's death. He recounts Huguely had a beer in hand at the golf tournament that morning and remembers Huguely dropping a wine bottle at dinner. He said Huguely's father told him to stop drinking.
After dinner, Clausen said Huguely stayed in the car with his father to talk about a graduation gift. When he returned to the apartment, Clausen said Huguely was talking incoherently about the gift being a scam and that his dad was trying to make him sign papers.
After Clausen was back in the apartment from getting beer, he said Huguely was acting strange when he returned to his apartment around 12:15 a.m. the night Love died. Clausen said he asked him, "George, what is wrong with you?" Clausen said Huguely did not respond. He then told the court that Huguely's accounts for his whereabouts were not adding up, and he believed something was off. Huguely told him that he had been with William Bolton and Chris Clements. He testified there was "no doubt in my mind there was a change in demeanor" when Huguely came back that night.
When asked about Huguely's behavior over the few months prior to Love's death, Clausen said he was drinking a lot, getting "ridiculous" and "more belligerent than the rest of us." He told the court he had discussed with friends plans to sit down and talk to Huguely about his behavior over that time period following the weekend Love died.
Chris Clements was the next witness to take the stand. He said he had known Love since middle school and was very good friends with her. Clements testified, following the previous incident where Love reportedly hit Huguely with her purse, Love went to Clement's apartment for comfort.
Clements, a teammate Huguely had known for all three years, lived in an apartment below him in the same building. Clements testified that he was woken up by Huguely on Sunday May 2, 2010.
Huguely reportedly went into Clements room, ripped off the covers of his bed (with Clement's girlfriend in it) and sat on him. He said Huguely was "just messing around" but felt like he couldn't move. The prosecution asked him about how heavy Huguely seemed and asked Clements about how strong he thought he was in comparison to Huguely.
Clements testified that he also went to the golf tournament, but said he went back to work on a paper. He said that around 11:30 that night Huguely had gone into his apartment, but he told him to go away and locked his door. Clements said he continued to work on his paper until 7:00 the next morning when Caitly Whiteley came to his door to let the police into Huguely's apartment building. He said 20 minutes later he found out Love was dead.
*Editors Note: Huguely's friends had testified that Huguely told them he was with Clements during the time he was missing around midnight.*
William Bolton, also a teammate of Huguely's, was the next witness. Bolton testified that Huguely was not in his apartment Sunday night or Monday morning. In previous testimony by friends, Huguely said he was with him.
Bolton said Clausen had called him and asked if Huguely had been there. Bolton said he then went to Huguely's apartment and saw Huguely in the bathroom "visibly drunk." He said Huguely then went to bed. At that point William Thompson, Clausen and Carroll were in the apartment. After an hour, they had all left and George was left in the apartment.
William (Mikey) Thompson
Thompson took the stand next and said he went to the golf tournament with Huguely and Huguely's father. He testified that Huguely seemed drunk from the night before and was drinking 3-4 beers in the car on the way to the golf tournament. Thompson said he did not play with the Huguelys but saw George V put several more beers into his golf bag.
After the tournament, Thompson said Huguely was visibly drunk in the club house and was saying "embarrassing things" in front of family members of teammates.
Thompson said after the tournament he went to dinner at C&O with Huguely's dad and Huguely.
*Editor's Note: Clausen also testified he was there.*
Thompson told the court dinner was cut short because of Huguely's behavior. He testified that on the way back to the car he saw Huguely peeing on the side of the building.
Thompson said he went back to his apartment after dinner and that Huguely used his bathroom just after midnight.
The prosecution asked him about Huguely's behavior in the months leading up to the incident. The defense objected to Thompson talking about prior instances of Huguely's behavior. The judge asked the jury to leave the room so he could hear what Thompson had to say about Huguely. The judge then allowed the jury the be brought back to hear Thompson testify that Huguely had been affected by alcohol 3-4 times a week in the months before the incident.
Megan Moses was the next witness to take the stand. She testified that she had met Huguely at a concert on the downtown mall the week before. Moses said that she had received a call from Huguely that weekend. He wanted to see what she was doing and meet up. She said she sent him a text message back that she was out of town.
Charlottesville Police Officer Flaherty
The prosecution asked Flaherty to come back to the stand. He was asked to confirm that Love was in the body bag that he tagged.
Defense Witness Testimony:
Dr. Alphonse Poklis
The defense's first witness was Richmond toxicologist Dr. Alphonse Poklis from Virginia Commonwealth University. He talked about the process of extrapolation, which is how someone can infer statistical data that is directly unobservable. Poklis testified he took into account time and physical condition of the body, and in his opinion, Love's time of death was around 2:30 a.m. He said her blood alcohol content (BAC) was between 0.16 and 0.18 around midnight – during interaction with Huguely - and down to 0.14 at 2:30 a.m. Poklis stated that Love was "clinically intoxicated" which leads to "severe impairment" in terms of an individual's judgment, emotions, and reasoning.
On cross-examination, Chapman asked if his BAC calculations included those with brain injuries. After a defense objection was overruled, the toxicologist answered no. He told the court he saw no evidence of brain injury causing the heart to slow over time. At this point, Chapman got heated and said, "then she must be alive today."
Dr. Jan E. Leestma
The defense's second and final witness of the day was Chicago neuropathologist Dr. Jan E. Leestma. He testified that he was certified in general and anatomic pathology as well. Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana spent a long period of time asking Leestma about his background and credentials. He testified that he dealt with blunt force trauma injuries "all the time" and that it was a "very common situation." Leestma estimated that he had examined at least 20,000 brains in his career as a neuropathologist. He said that this is the first time he was testifying in Virginia, but was qualified to testify as an expert in at least 40 other states.
Leestma testified that he was familiar with beta-APP stain slides – which show axon injury in the brain, after the slide sits for around six hours. Dr. Marie-Beatriz Lopes, who testified in day seven of the Huguely trial, used the beta-APP stain technique to determine the time period in which Love died. Leestma confirmed that he saw photos of the autopsy, a toxicology report for Love, rescue squad records, Dr. Christine Fuller's report (who testified in day seven), Lopes' report, Dr. William Gormley's report (who testified in day six and day seven), Dr. Renu Virmani's report (who testified on day five), and Dr. William J. Brady's report (who testified on day four).
Leestma testified that he physically examined Love's brain and looked at microscopic slides prepared by the medical examiner's office in Richmond. He stated that Love's injuries were likely due to "blunt force trauma" from autopsy photos and the report. Leestma's definition for blunt force trauma was a blow or impact to the face without cuts. He then said the term "doesn't tell you more than that."
After Huguely's defense team showed Leestma various autopsy photos in the courtroom, he stated that there was obvious bruising and bleeding under the skin on Love's face related to her injuries. He stated that there was a broad pattern of external injuries on the right side of her head, lip, and chin that were "all connected." Leestma said the cut on the inside of Love's mouth was probably caused by impact on the lower lip, driven it into her teeth that led to bleeding. He then states that this cut on Love's mouth was "probably the cause of a lot of the external bleeding" seen, but did not know if it was fatal.
Huguely's defense team then had Leestma talk about his analysis of Love's brain from the outside moving inwards. He first acknowledged bleeding under Love's scalp. Leestma then confirmed swelling in Love's brain, but said he's "not impressed with anything else" and that there was no obvious wound. He then acknowledges small hemorrhages near a ventricle of Love's brain and in the left temporal lobe, but added, "otherwise everything is as it is supposed to be." Leestma pointed out that the corpus callosum – a band of nerves connecting the left and right hemispheres of a brain – in Love's brain is still in tact. He stated that it is often lacerated in cases of severe head trauma.
Huguely's defense team then asked Leestma about various types of injuries to the brain. Leestma ruled out "shear force" injuries in Love's brain, and explained shear force by the example of breaking spaghetti with a twisting motion. He stated that a "trauma to brain is like a virus to the whole brain," and that it doesn't just pick out one spot.
Leestma then went back and talked some more about the beta-APP stain technique. He stated that he could not confirm blunt force trauma from the slide – "can't differentiate from other processes." Leestma attacked the technique by stating "the forensic value of something like this is probably nil."
Leestma stated that Love's injuries were likely a "consequence of lack of perfusion of brain for who knows how long and then CPR efforts." He said CPR does not generate full or normal blood pressure.
Leestma testified that his opinion about the cause of Love's death is that it was "deprivation of blood flow and oxygen in brain, probably asphyxia." He then went on to say the mechanism of Love's was probably "her face being down in her pillow, where there was a secretion of blood. She was breathing in the wet surface, which would have led to asphyxia."
Prosecutor Dave Chapman then cross-examined Dr. Leestma. Chapman verified damage found in Love's brain. He then proceeded to ask Leestma "did rescue squads just get lucky in causing hemorrhages where they did in her body and not other parts," referring to the brain and heart. Chapman also asked, "Did you think they were just trying to resuscitate parts of her body?"
Chapman pointed out Leestma saw the autopsy report for Love's body, so he knew of hemorrhages in her heart. Chapman then asked Leestma how there could have been so little damage in Love's heart if the most pressure during CPR is applied over it. Leestma replied, "the heart and brain are totally different organs, like apples and oranges." He later stated that it was "totally inappropriate" to equate the two organs. Chapman retaliated by asking Leestma about the geography of the heart during CPR. Leestma's explanation for why CPR caused critical brain damage in Love but not major heart damage was that "the heart is a pump structure that has elastic tissue and muscle tissue, but brain is not."
Leestma confirmed that he did not write a report for his observations. He stated that none was requested of him. Chapman then asked how much Leestma was getting paid for his work on this case. The neuropathologist confirmed that he is billing about $8,000 for his time on this case, and then will add an hourly rate for testimony as well as items like travel costs.
Chapman then pulled out a book written by Leestma himself, and had the doctor read a section called "pathology on brain stem injuries." Chapman then presented Leestma with a series of images with beta-APP stain slides taken from Love's brain. Leestma testified he had never seen the beta-APP slides before. When Chapman asked if he inquired for them, Leestma stated they were not "important" to him. Chapman proceeded to ask "So all the medical literature with geographical pattern of beta-APP stains showing axon damage after period of time is junk?" Leestma responded, "Regrettably yes."
Chapman ended his cross-examination by asking Leestma about perfusion and reperfusion in terms of CPR. Leestma commented, "The science, the literature is there," in which Chapman replied, "Which you could refer us to. That's all."
Leestma ended his testimony saying he stands by his findings.
Court adjourned at around 6:30 Wednesday afternoon. Defense witness testimonies will resume at 9:30 Thursday morning. At this point in the case, the Huguely trial will likely go into Saturday and resume next Wednesday. Court will not be in session on Sunday or Monday, and there are scheduling conflicts on Tuesday.