Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely was convicted of second-degree murder for the 2010 death of his former girlfriend Yeardley Love and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Last year the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal, and his attorney filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus January 19 in Charlottesville Circuit Court, where he was tried in February 2012.
Habeas corpus dates back to the Magna Carta. “Essentially it’s a civil lawsuit filed after all the appeals saying you’re illegally jailed and the case was improperly handled,” says attorney David Heilberg, who is not connected with the Huguely case.
“It’s a remedy that is very rarely granted but it’s pursued regularly,” says Heilberg.
The 101-page petition “all comes down to malice and the cause of death,” and that they weren’t fairly tried, says Heilberg. “I was surprised at how little proof there was of cause of death.” The state provided five witnesses about how Love died, which is “unheard of,” says Heilberg. “Did the commonwealth really prove the cause of death?”
Huguely claimed Love was alive when he left her apartment early May 3, 2010, after kicking a hole in her bedroom door. Prosecution witnesses said she died of blunt force trauma. The defense claimed she died from asphyxia from being injured, intoxicated and facedown on her pillow—but didn’t put on an adequate defense to convince the jury, according to the petition.
Huguely has long argued that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated when attorney Rhonda Quagliana became ill and the court refused to halt the trial. His defense was further impacted when she e-mailed witnesses about prosecution witnesses’ testimony, and the judge refused to allow defense experts to testify that some of Love’s injuries were caused by CPR, contends the petition. “In sum, trial counsel’s conduct resulted in a wholly lopsided battle of the experts,” says the petition.
“Any habeas has ineffective counsel,” says Heilberg. “The next time I try a perfect case will be the first time.” The question is, he says, were the mistakes serious enough that Huguely might otherwise have been convicted of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter or acquitted?
Quagliana and co-counsel Fran Lawrence issued this statement: “We welcome any review of our representation in this case. We continue to be supportive of George as we would be supportive of any client. We represented George enthusiastically and would again.”
Huguely’s right to a fair trial also was violated when a court officer gave the jury a dictionary to look up the meaning of malice, “an unauthorized external influence,” claims the petition.
According to the petition, “The jury wasn’t properly instructed about malice,” says Heilberg, and they didn’t get to hear all the evidence on the cause of death.”
Huguely, 28, is being held at Augusta Correctional Center in Craigsville. No trial date has been set.