The reporters and members of the public who gathered in the shaded courtroom at the Charlottesville Circuit Court this week knew the details of the case already. Yeardley Love was found dead two years ago this month after her drunken ex-boyfriend, George Huguely, kicked her door in late at night, wrestled with her on the floor, and left after tossing her, her nose bleeding, onto her bed.
But this was a chance to see what hadn’t yet been seen: Huguely’s face as he recounted their stormy relationship, his animated telling of their fights, and his storm of emotions on learning she never survived the night.
More than two dozen people, mostly reporters, gathered in the courtroom yesterday to see the 64-minute interrogation with police and a slideshow of photographs, forensic documents, and email and text message transcripts. Today, the audience that came to see the same evidence was smaller—only about a dozen people—and most weren’t reporters, just observers who wanted to see for themselves what the jury saw.
What they watched—what all of us watched—was Huguely’s life as he knew it ending.
I’ve only recently returned to Charlottesville to head up the C-VILLE’s news team. I wasn’t here for the media storm that surrounded the trial—the crowds of people and cameras and news vans that descended on the courthouse, the constant updates on testimony and evidence. My experience was briefer, more intimate. And when you sit a few feet from a screen and watch such an unraveling, it’s hard to feel like anything besides a young woman watching a young man coming to understand his brutal violence—violence he seemed to think was understandable, maybe even justified—ended up killing a girl.
In the video, recorded May 3, 2010, Charlottesville Police Detectives Lisa Reeves and Ed Pracher sat for more than an hour in a narrow cinderblock room with Huguely—disheveled, dressed in a dark shirt and shorts, and sounding at least a little drunk—and asked him about the day and night before.
Huguely, then 22, talked animatedly about his relationship with Love, the fights they’d recently had, the messages they’d sent back and forth. He mimed shaking her after he broke into her unlit bedroom and demanded they talk, and mimicked how he claimed she thrashed in her bed, throwing herself against the wall.
“She was flopping like a fish out of water,” he said, twitching his whole body and grabbing his own arms in a tight bear hug.
Eventually, the questions got more pointed. “How did you get in the door?” Reeves asked. Huguely stared ahead. Finally, after a long pause: “Actually, it may have been locked.”
Other questions made him hesitate before answering, too, looking down and away from the two detectives, like he was thinking hard.
“Did you take anything?” asked Reeves. “Because her laptop was missing. Did you grab it?”
“Yeah, I did, actually.” And later: “The computer is in a dumpster, maybe?”
Finally, after leaving him alone in the room more than once, the detectives turned to one another. Reeves turned back, looked Huguely in the eye, and dropped the bombshell.
“She’s dead,” Reeves said matter-of-factly. “You killed her. She’s dead.”
He sat, frozen, one hand under his chin. The courtroom of spectators was as silent as the interrogation room in the video. Finally, still perfectly still, Huguely echoed Reeves’ words.
“She’s dead?” There was another pause, then: “How is she dead? How the f— is she dead?”
“You just told us,” Reeves replied.
For the next 20 minutes, Huguely appeared to go from stunned silence to disbelieving horror and anger, weeping and raging at the police and insisting they were lying. When they stood him up to cuff him and formally charge him, the band name on his T-shirt was finally visible: The Police. He leaned his head against the wall where he stood. “Oh my god,” he said. “Kill me.”
Over and over, he repeated his disbelief. “She’s not dead,” he said, grimacing, stomping one foot, rocking back and forth in his chair. “I know she’s not dead. She’s not dead.”
His interrogators quietly assured him she was. “I’m not lying to you,” said Pracher. “It’s true.”
He ultimately collapsed forward, his face on the table in front of him, gasping and sobbing.
He’s sitting that way, pitched forward, his arms shackled behind him, when he speaks the last words on the tape: “There’s no way,” he said. “There’s no way.”
For our full story on the evidence—and the ongoing push to have it fully unsealed—see next week’s paper, on newsstands Tuesday, May 22.