Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman (above) employs a workmanlike methodical manner as he examines witnesses. (Drawing courtesy of Art Lien/courtartist.com.)
One of the things that’s frustrating and bewildering about this trial is the absurdly methodical nature with which Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman has presented his case. Thoroughness is, of course, to be desired in a lawyer, especially with a case of this magnitude. But Chapman is taking it to another level, and frankly I’ve been wondering if there’s madness to his method.
When the police searched the apartments of Love, Huguely and Huguely’s teammates across the hall, they grabbed anything that looked remotely suspicious.
They picked up a white T-shirt lying on Huguely’s couch, even though the shirt he was wearing that night was blue. They took an empty Natural Light beer can and some towels with red stains from Love’s bathroom. A shower curtain with a red stain and swabs of a red stain in the bathtub were taken from Huguely’s neighbor’s apartment. Yellow stains on Huguely’s kitchen floor were swabbed, as were red stains from Love’s front door, although those smelled suspiciously like tomato sauce.
This makes perfect sense, as the police didn’t have a clear idea of the scope of what they were investigating. But now, almost two years later and halfway through the trial, you’d think that the basic thrust of the case would be obvious.
Chapman’s presentation is so all encompassing, that when establishing that his expert witnesses are indeed experts, he’s routinely cut off by either the defense or the judge. Left to his own devises, he’ll go on for ten minutes listing their accomplishments, and I don’t think I’m imagining the look of annoyance on defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana’s face as he lists the tenth peer review board they’re on, or the 20th article they’ve published.
It’s safe to say that Chapman is the reason the trial will almost certainly overshoot its two-week target. But far worse than his desire to give longwinded introductions is his penchant for introducing bags and bags of evidence that seem to have no relevance to the case at all. Tuesday afternoon was a perfect example.
In the morning we heard from three witnesses who testified in great detail about the evidence gathered from dissecting Love’s brain, which showed both bruising and hemorrhaging. The unanimous opinion of the witnesses, neuropathologists, and forensic doctors all, was that the damage to Love’s brain was caused by blunt force trauma, which in turn may have damaged her brain stem, causing cardiac arrhythmia and death.
Toxicology reports showed Love’s blood alcohol was high, .14mg, but not high enough to kill her, and the amount of Adderall in her system was quite low, only .05mg, well within the normal prescribed level of .002 – .15mg.
During cross examination, the defense team managed to get UVA pathologist Beatriz Lopes to admit that she couldn’t say what had caused the blunt force trauma, nor how severe the trauma was. And Lopes also agreed that she couldn’t rule out other causes of death. Lawrence and Quagliana are still pushing hard on two issues: One, that love’s head didn’t hit the wall and two, that the damage to her brain may have been caused by CPR. The last theory has been completely denied by all the experts so far.
The second half of the day began with lab reports on the “red stains” we’d heard so much about.
According to forensic biologist, Angela Rainey, the blood found on Love’s pillow, bed and comforter, all belonged to Love, as did the two stains found on the underwear she was wearing. Blood spots on her laptop case were positively ID-ed as belonging to her as well. The black t-shirt found by her bed had no blood, nor was there any blood on Huguely’s clothes, except for a small spot on the back leg of his shorts, which tested positive for his DNA and another unidentified set of DNA.
But then came Chapman’s strange parade of non-evidence. The door to Love’s room, the one we know Huguely kicked a hole in, was checked for fingerprints. None were found. The crumpled Natural Light beer can taken from Love’s bathroom trash was also checked for fingerprints and none were found. There weren’t, we were told by a forensics fingerprint expert, relevant fingerprints on anything.
After receiving the important info about the blood found in Love’s room, 12 more items were brought out and introduced into evidence. The red stains found on Love’s towels? Not blood. The three shirts found in Huguely’s apartment (two of which he was not wearing the night Love died) were also found to have no blood on them. Huguely’s bathmat was blood free, as were the swabs from his bathtub drain. There was a spot of blood found on the shower curtain, but it didn’t belong to Huguely or Love. Stains on the kitchen floor were found to be something other than blood, and a paper towel found in the bathroom trash in the apartment across the hall was ascertained to be without a doubt not covered with blood. As a matter of fact, “all of the samples” from the apartment across the hall “did not have blood.”
The most interesting non-finding concerned a piece of wall from next to Love’s bed that had a suspicious off-white stain. The piece of wall was shown to us twice in court, and we were told that it tested positive for having no make-up and no blood.
And then there’s the crumpled Natty Light can found in Love’s bathroom trash. The can has been paraded in front of the jury several times, and we’ve been told in detail how it was found and carefully tucked away as evidence. And yet it had no fingerprints, and when a DNA test was done to determine who drank it, the answer came back inconclusive.
Again, I understand why the police at the scene would spread their net wide, but why does valuable court time need to be given to so much evidence that’s evidence of nothing?
I think I understand the Commonwealth’s strategy. In a case this important, they want to cover all their bases, and make sure they give the defense as little as possible to use against them. We’ve been there, they’re saying, and swabbed that.
But are they giving the jury too much to think about? The Natty Light can is a red herring. The jury needs to be focused like a laser on the things that matter. And the rest of us need this trial to finish by deadline.