A grand jury in Virginia considering charges in the death of Cockeysville resident Yeardley Love indicted her ex-boyfriend on Monday on first-degree and felony murder charges, and a judge set a trial date of Feb. 6.
Still, new evidence presented at an April hearing against suspect George Huguely V is raising questions about whether prosecutors can prove the most serious charges at trial and about how the University of Virginia women's lacrosse player died.
Defense lawyers have contended that Love's death was the result of a "tragic accident" and that the evidence revealed thus far does not support a charge of premeditated murder. The grand jury that met Monday disagreed, upholding all the charges that police had filed against Huguely.
Prosecutors in Virginia do not have to share many details about their case with defense attorneys, at least at this stage, and the lead attorney for the commonwealth has declined to comment. Experts watching the trial caution that there might be a lot of evidence yet to emerge.
Early accounts from authorities portrayed Love's death as the result of a violent confrontation with her former boyfriend. New accounts from the hearing revealed past confrontations between the victim and suspect, and that both had been drinking on the fatal night.
Huguely was "heavily intoxicated" after returning from a father-son golf outing at nearby Wintergreen Resort, and Love had a blood-alcohol level of 0.14 percent, according to the results of the autopsy. A police affidavit indicated that the 22-year-old woman was badly bloodied and bruised after Huguely, a member of the men's lacrosse team, had shaken her several times and bashed her head against the bedroom wall.
But testimony during the nine-hour hearing April 11 revealed evidence that contradicts some details in this account. Love's apartment showed few signs of a violent struggle and a "red-stained" T-shirt taken by police proved not to have any trace evidence of blood.
"The picture that we have of a violent, bloody death scene has been overthrown," said Anne Coughlin, a criminal law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. "It is a different kind of altercation. Now it becomes a question of how hard he hit her and all of those things. It's a different kind of event.
"We've come out of this hearing with a much different impression of the facts than we've had for a long time," Coughlin said.
An independent crime scene investigator said in court last week that there was no blood spatter or indentations on the walls, and that Love's bedroom was hardly disturbed after her brief confrontation with Huguely. A downstairs neighbor who said in court she heard a loud noise and footsteps recalled seeing a man fitting Huguely's description leaving between "six and 10 minutes" after she heard the noise. Police said that Huguely had kicked or punched a hole in the door of Love's bedroom.
A lab technician who examined Huguely's clothes said she found a couple of drops of blood on one shirt, but that a red-stained T-shirt taken by police from Huguely's apartment did not have any trace evidence of blood.
"Today's testimony began to correct and clarify several misimpressions about this case, and the remaining testimony and evidence will come out at trial," defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana said in a statement after the April hearing.
The felony murder charge was brought in January, intimating that Huguely killed Love in the process of committing another crime such as burglary or theft. Huguely took a computer from Love's apartment and dumped it in a trash bin, police said.
A veteran attorney said there should be no surprise that a case such as Huguely's, which has attracted widespread attention, appears to strengthen or weaken as court hearings and filings progress. Details that may at first seem to be contradictory could fit seamlessly into the timeline at trial.
"The press is greedy for information, and there is this clamor to find out information, some of which is true, some of which is not true," said Jeff Harding, who was unsuccessful in prosecuting Brian Tribble for providing the cocaine that killed Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball star, in 1986.
"All of this information has not been thoroughly investigated, it has not been analyzed," Harding said. "You will see an initial press release where the police say A, B and C, and when they further investigate it, it turns out to be D,E and F. … The information keeps getting refined until you get to court."