Monday, February 13, 2012
Coroner: Signs of suffocation present
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A University of Virginia lacrosse player found dead in her bedroom in May 2010 showed signs of suffocation and had a potentially lethal neck injury, the coroner who performed her autopsy testified Monday at her ex-boyfriend's murder trial.
Dr. Michael Gormley's prosecution testimony appears to counter George Huguely's version of his final encounter with Yeardley Love, in which he said the two became physical but he did not strangle or punch her. In earlier testimony Monday, police officers testified that Huguely had bruises on his arms and legs and knuckles the morning Love's body was found on May 3, 2010, in her Charlottesville apartment.
Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, Md., is on trial in Charlottesville Circuit Court on a charge of first-degree murder and other counts. The prosecution contends the former lacrosse player went to the 22-year-old Love's apartment after an alcohol-fueled day of golf and slammed her head repeatedly against the wall of her bedroom. He kicked a gaping hole in the door of her bedroom door when she refused to let him in, prosecutors said.
The defense, which has not presented any witnesses, has suggested Love's death was an accident, and possibly related to her use of a prescription medicine for attention deficit disorder. Prosecution medical experts have cast doubt on that theory.
Huguely initially turned away when the first batch of autopsy photographs was brought to the defense table.
Gormley described a series of bruises on Love's legs, lower back, left forearm and hand. He also described a small series of bruises on her chest, which he said could be caused by grabbing.
Love's most severe injuries were on the right side of her face -- especially a battered right eye -- and neck and under her jaw, Gormley testified. She also had injuries near the carotid artery, which supplies the neck and head with blood. She had no injuries on the left side of her face, he said.
Gormley said Love also suffered injuries within her mouth.
"The injuries to the face and particularly to the mouth could be consistent with smothering," said Gormley, adding that was the not the cause of death. The autopsy said Love died of blunt-force trauma but isn't specific.
Gormley said, however, the injuries to the neck near the carotid artery could have been lethal. The artery helps regulate blood supply to the heart, he said.
During defense questioning, Gormley acknowledged that determining the exact time when bruises occur is an inexact science.
The graphic autopsy photographs were presented to jurors, who didn't seem to flinch as they were presented. Many leaned to examine the photos as Gormley explained what they showed.
Gormley's testimony seemed to be directly aimed at Huguely's version of events, which were detailed in a police interrogation video showed to jurors last week. In the video, Huguely played down the physical side of his last encounter with Love, who was from suburban Baltimore.
During the interview, conducted hours after Love was found dead, Huguely said he came to her apartment to talk and that he "shook her a little" but did not hit her in the face. He claimed Love hit her own head against the wall and he didn't consider her seriously hurt when he left her apartment. He said she had a bloody nose.
On the police tape, Huguely was incredulous and began sobbing when he a detective told him Love was dead. He wept in court as the tape was played.
Earlier Monday, a Charlottesville police officer testified Huguely had bruises and scrapes on his legs, arms and knuckles hours after Love's body was found.
During testimony last week, the first detective to question Huguely about the slaying asked him about bruised knuckles she had seen and he said they were the result of playing lacrosse.
Huguely attorney Francis McQ. Lawrence made that connection in court Monday as well before Chapman objected to his line of questioning.
Witnesses who testified last week described their relationship as sputtering, with each accusing the other of being unfaithful. The prosecution said an email from Huguely to Love in the days before a threat "I should have killed you" after he learned of an infidelity.
Huguely has pleaded not guilty to murder and five other charges in connection with Love's death. One of the charges involves the theft of her laptop computer.
The prosecution contends Huguely took the computer to hide the threatening email.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Huguely could be sentenced to life in prison.