CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- Thursday afternoon was a gorgeous late-summer afternoon here. Students began classes earlier this week at the University of Virginia, and this close-knit college town offered nothing if not a pleasant sense or renewal for the academic community.
But the mood and scene were decidedly darker in Charlottesville Circuit Court, where George Huguely V was sentenced to 23 years in prison for his role in the alcohol-fueled beating death of former girlfriend Yeardley Love, 22, when they both were students at the U.Va. in May 2010.
Huguely had been convicted of second-degree murder and grand larceny in February, and the jury recommended a 26-year sentence. Charlottesville Circuit Judge Edward Hogshire delivered the sentence before a hushed courtroom shortly before 4:45 p.m.
Parole will not be an option for Huguely because Virginia abolished it in 1995 but he could be eligible for early release if he completes various vocational and education programs offered by the state's Department of Corrections but nonetheless is required to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. He will receive credit for time already served.
Asked by Judge Edward L. Hogshire whether he wished to speak before the sentencing, Huguely, now 24, nodded, stood up and directed his comments toward the Love family.
"I'm so sorry for your loss," he said with scant emotion. "I pray you find peace. Thank you."
The hearing, not surprisingly, was study in stark contracts. The prosecutors, led by Commonwealth's Attorney Warner Chapman painted a dark portrait of Huguely, whose hair had grown out considerably since the jury found him guilty of savagely beating his off-and-on girlfriend and leaving her on her apartment bed where she was found to have drown in her own blood.
Among Chapman's witnesses was a former teammate who admittedly had a brief affair with Love when he thought she had broken off her relationship with Huguely. He said he took Love home from a bar late one night, had a romantic encounter in her apartment before leaving for his own apartment. That's where, he said, he awoke to Huguely on top of him and severely beating him.
Another common friend of Huguely and Love testified that while on a break from school, she told her father, Huguely's high school lacrosse coach, about what she described as "excessive drinking," after which the coach more or less lectured Huguely about his behavior.
The first time she saw Huguely again was shortly after the school year began, when while at a bar he screamed at her for telling her father, and then "grabbed me with both hands around my neck."
The defense attorneys, on the other hand, had such people as one of his uncles, one of his aunts and the priest who counseled him the past two years in prison, all of whom spoke to what a swell guy Huguely is.
"This is a boy who has always given," the uncle said. "He's not a taker. I don't what happened."
And from the priest, who had never met Huguely until the murder and read and seen countless media accounts about it: "It's not the same person," Father Joseph Scordo said. "The person the media describes is a harsh and out-of-control person," adding that he considers Huguely "a spiritual grandson."
But Hogshire made clear why he shaved only three years off the 26-year sentence prosecutors sought, and said he agreed with the jurors' recommendation.
"What they saw was evidence of a brutal beating," he said, "(and) we had a preview of the type of violence Mr. Huguely was capable of. . .That person has taken a precious life."
Defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana said both the conviction and the sentence will be appealed.
"We profoundly disagree with the sentencing imposed today," she said on the steps outside the courthouse. "Our client remains optimistic."
Chapman took little solace in the decision and he had to blink his eyes to avoid tears a couple of times while talking to reporters outside the court room.
"We believe the jurors here in Charlottesville got it right," he said. "Alcohol doesn't cause (people) to do things that aren't in them - this gentleman has an anger problem. . .All I see is loss. It'll be that was forever."
Earlier in court, he said, "The issue isn't too much alcohol. The issue is too much violence."
Love's sisters, Lexie and Sharon Love didn't talk to reporters but issued a statement that said in part, "We would like to thank everyone who worked so tirelessly on Yeardley's behalf. In particular, we would like to thank Dave Chapman for his dedication and compassion. We don't know how we would have gotten through the past two years without him. We find no joy in others' sorrow. We plan to work diligently through the One Love Foundation to try and prevent this from happening to another family."
After an afternoon of drinking, including a father-son golf outing at nearby Wintergreen, Huguely kept drinking into the night and then smashed his way into Love' apartment bedroom, where the beating he applied left here with severe bruises and contusions, according to the autopsy.