The set up of this particular courtroom is a very traditional one, something you only see in a few older courtrooms in Virginia. The jury box, instead of being off to the side, is in front of the judge and facing the audience. This means that the evidence, especially the many photographs displayed on a flat screen TV, is almost always presented facing towards the jury where the press can’t see it.
Friday’s dramatic video, which we could only hear, was apparently the last straw, and some of the larger news outlets decided to put a motion before the judge to let us see what’s on the TV screen. The motion was presented at 8:30am before the trial began. Judge Hogshire said, in effect, tough shit. He’s not going to change things at this point.
Which meant that, on day six of the trial, we heard more descriptions of things we couldn’t see, including photographs of two bodies and speculation about what happened between them.
The body of George Huguely was examined on May 3 in the interview room at the Charlottesville Police Station. There was a skin abrasion on his left forearm and right wrist. There was a bruise on his right arm, one on his left thigh and an abrasion on his left knee. His right calf had skin abrasions and lacerations. The knuckles of both hands were red, as was his left palm.
The calf injuries are from putting his foot through Love’s bedroom door, but his arm and hand injuries are in dispute. Huguely said they were lacrosse injuries, but while the men’s team did play a home game on Saturday, May 1, Huguely is listed as a substitute.
His cheek was swabbed for DNA, hair samples from his leg were collected, and his fingernails were scraped above a glassine envelope to catch whatever fell out.
On May 4, 2010, Yeardley Love’s body was taken to Richmond where an autopsy was performed by Assistant Chief Medical Examiner William Gormley. We watched the jury as they looked at the photographs.
There were several bruises on both legs, one on the right calf, one on the right buttock and thigh. There were two bruises on the left forearm and wrist, and one on the knuckle of the index finger.
There are ways to determine the age of a bruise, but it’s not an exact science. Gormley thinks the bruises occurred perimortem, or near the time of death, but he can’t be sure. Different people bruise in different ways, and bruises heal at different rates.
The bruises on her calf were consistent with those caused by fingers, but they could also have been caused by something else. There were no grab mark bruises found on her arms. The bruises on her chest were most likely caused by CPR.
Under the skin of her neck there was a small area of damage to the soft tissue above the carotid body, a small bunch of cells that help regulate the heart rate. Pressure on the carotid body could cause the heart to slow, or stop. It could cause unconsciousness or death, but the damage to Love’s neck was minor, and there’s no way to tell if the pressure that caused it was enough to affect the carotid body.
There was bruising on her chin, abrasions and bruising around her entire right eye, abrasions on the right cheek, and an abrasion below her bottom lip. The inside of the lip had a bruise and a laceration suggesting that it had contacted her teeth. The small bit of skin between her upper lip and her gum, called the frenulum, was torn.
The injuries to the mouth were consistent with an attempt to smother her, with a hand or other object. Her nose was not broken, but Gormley couldn’t tell if it was the source of any blood flow.
On the right side of her head, under the skin, there was a large area of bleeding. There was no laceration on the outside of the skin, no skull fracture, no damage to the brain. The subscapular bleeding was most likely caused by blunt trauma to the head, and is a possible cause for death.
Under cross examination by the defense, Gormley said that the injuries to the side of the head could have been made by hitting the floor, and the facial abrasions by scraping against the rug, consistent with Huguely’s story that he and Love wrestled on the floor. Although there were injuries to the mouth, her teeth and jaw were undamaged, and it’s possible that her mouth was injured when hitting the floor. The defense pointed out that there were no injuries to the rest of her right side, like her shoulder, which you might expect if she was slammed against the wall.
Despite the damage to the neck tissue, her larynx and windpipe were fine, and there was no bruising on the sides or back of her neck.
Although the lengthy catalogue of Love’s injuries is convincing in its gruesomeness, the defense managed to insert several splinters of doubt. From a strictly legal standpoint, the details of the injuries are harder to parse then it might seem.
It’s frustrating to hear everyday about vitally important details you can’t see. But if you sit in the right place and crane your neck, you can catch brief glimpses of the photos as they’re passed between the attorneys. One picture I saw that way was of Love’s face, in extreme close up. Her mouth was open, her eyes closed, her head shaved. I quickly looked away.
It occurs to me that when covering a murder trial, the press is, in essence, a pack of vultures perched over a body.