RICHMOND, Virginia — A former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted of fatally beating his ex-girlfriend asked an appeals court Wednesday for a new trial, arguing that he was denied his right to an attorney when one of his lawyers fell ill during his trial.
Attorney Paul D. Clement raised three other issues before the Court of Appeals of Virginia on behalf of George W. Huguely V in the May 2010 slaying of Yeardley Love, of suburban Baltimore. Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is serving a 23-year sentence in a state prison for his second-degree murder conviction.
Love, who was 22 and a member of the U.Va. women's lacrosse team, was found dead in her apartment after Huguely kicked a hole in her bedroom door and beat her after a day of heavy drinking, according to trial testimony.
The appeals court, which is expected to rule in several weeks or months, asked nearly three dozen pointed questions of Clement and the senior assistant attorney general representing the state, Leah A. Darron. The majority of their questions focused on whether Huguely was denied his 6th Amendment right to an attorney when one of his lawyers became ill during the trial in Charlottesville in February 2012.
Nine days into the trial, Huguely co-counsel Rhonda Quagliana became visibly ill with stomach flu, but the trial judge refused to grant a continuance, even though Huguely objected.
Clement argued that the "most sensationalized" trial in Charlottesville history could have been continued into the next week, when Quagliana had fully recovered.
Judge Randolph Beales asked Clement if Huguely had had four attorneys and one fell ill during trial, would that compel a judge to delay the trial.
Clement responded that both of Huguely's attorneys were equal partners in his defense and each was "integral to the case."
Darran noted that when co-counsel Frances Lawrence was asked by the trial judge whether he could proceed without Quagliana, he said he could. The trial was continued for 1 ½ days to allow Quagliana to recover.
Her absence, however, forced Lawrence to juggle his witnesses, including key medical testimony that Quagliana was to present.
Beales asked Darron of the possible disruption on Huguely's defense.
"Witnesses can be called out of order, and Mr. Lawrence called them up," she replied.
Clement also cited the trial judge's decision not to strike jury prospects who had expressed opinions that cast doubt on their impartiality in the case, including one who said she believed Huguely was guilty.
Darron responded that the juror, during further questioning, said she would be able to set aside her opinion and listen objectively to testimony at the trial.
Huguely's appeal team also objected to the trial judge's refusal to allow "blame the victim" questions of jurors and said the jury was not properly instructed on the definition of "malice," an element in a second-degree murder conviction.
Outside court, Clement said Huguely family members who attended the hearing were "holding up" since Huguely's conviction and imprisonment.
In a statement, Huguely's mother Marta Murphy said, "Our family has faith in the legal system and looks forward to the Court of Appeals' decision. We love and support George."
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sszkotakap.