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Chapman defends Huguely procedure, rejects need for retrial

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Posted: Friday, June 8, 2012 9:57 pm | Updated: 11:18 am, Wed Jan 23, 2013.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman filed a response to convicted murderer George Huguely’s defense counsel’s motion to set aside the Feb. 22 verdict Friday afternoon, disputing claims that the court violated Huguely’s Sixth Amendment right by asking the defense counsel to proceed with the trial despite an unexpected illness.

Chapman wrote in his response, filed just before 4 p.m. in Charlottesville Circuit Court, that if Judge Edward Hogshire had not asked Francis McQ. Lawrence to call witnesses out of turn when Rhonda Quagliana contracted a stomach flu, the case would have been “suspended entirely between February 15th and 22nd.”

“A delay of that magnitude would have separated the jurors considerably from the Commonwealth’s evidence and the effect of cross-examination of those defense witnesses who testified before trial proceedings were postponed,” Chapman wrote in his response. He added, “each day of delay increased the risk that a juror might be unable to continue in the case as a result of accident, illness or taint.”

The defense’s motion for a retrial, filed May 25, accused Hogshire of placing “an unyielding emphasis on expeditiousness and the need to finish the case ‘on time.’”

Chapman also suggested that Quagliana’s illness may not have been as severe as indicated during trial and recent filings. He said that Quagliana answered the phone at her law firm twice Feb. 17, the second day the trial was postponed due to her illness.

He cited the number of out-of-state witnesses in support of Hogshire’s decision to proceed with testimony.

Chapman also supported the jury’s decision to convict Huguely of second-degree murder and grand larceny in the May 3, 2010, death of his ex-girlfriend and fellow University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love, saying that “in the immediate aftermath of putting his foot through Yeardley Love’s bedroom door to gain access the defendant began to assault her in the bed where she was sleeping.”

He added that Huguely’s decision to take Love’s laptop computer and toss it into a 14th Street trash receptacle reinforced his “angry, callous, mean and cruel disposition toward her” at the time of the crimes.

“But for the defendant’s actions Yeardley Love would have awakened May 3, 2010 and gone on with her life. It wasn’t an accident. It was a second-degree murder,” Chapman said.

He also addressed improper emails exchanged between Quagliana and the defense’s expert medical witnesses, which shared details of the commonwealth’s witnesses’ testimony. As a result of the emails, Hogshire limited the testimony of defense witness Dr. Ronald Uscinski, which the defense claimed to be an error in their motion.

“Defense counsel’s actions were blatant and intentional. The purpose of the email communications in question was to gain an advantage when the witnesses testified,” Chapman wrote, adding that it would have been within Hogshire’s rights to disallow Uscinski’s testimony altogether.

In regards to the defense’s objection to the admission of seven particular jurors to the jury pool, Chapman said the trial court has the right to exercise its discretion in refusing a motion to strike jurors for cause.

In the defense’s motion for retrial, Lawrence and Quagliana said Hogshire erred by disallowing a question about presenting uncomplimentary evidence about the victim during jury selection. Chapman supported Hogshire’s ruling, saying that “the question was taken to be a question about trial tactics” and thus “was ambiguous and yielded meaningless answers.”

“A review of the transcript will reveal that the Defendant was given ample opportunity to explore each juror’s qualifications,” Chapman wrote.

Chapman also countered the defense’s accusation that the court presented jurors with an inaccurate definition of the word “malice,” which separates second-degree murder from the lesser crime of manslaughter, by saying that the definition was taken verbatim from the state’s model jury instructions.

“… The defense contended that any conviction based on malice requires proof that the defendant was wicked, had an evil mind, and possessed a heart ‘regardless of social duty and fatally bent on mischief.’ That is simply not the law,” he wrote in his response.

Chapman did not address a supplemental motion filed by Huguely’s attorneys Tuesday claiming that the grounds for a civil suit filed earlier this spring by Love’s mother, Sharon Love, contradicts the prosecutions argument during trial. Tuesday’s motion also said that Chapman acted in violation of the law by not telling the defense during trial that a civil suit was already in the works.

The lawyers are scheduled to appear in court June 29 to argue their respective motions.

Huguely is currently scheduled for formal sentencing Aug. 30.