News & Politics

Booze Might Be George Huguely’s Salvation

The lacrosse player accused of killing his girlfriend could rely on the “voluntary intoxication” defense.

George Huguely is on trial for the murder of Yeardley Love. Photograph courtesy the Charlottesville Police Department.

Judge and jurors in the George Huguely murder trial can rest assured of one fact: Huguely was wasted when he broke into Yeardley Love’s apartment in the wee hours of May 3, 2010. They heard testimony last week as the trial began that Huguely started drinking the morning before, pounded down beers all day, had wine at dinner and continued drinking into the night.

My reporting in the May 2011 issue of The Washingtonian showed that Kevin Carroll, Huguely’s roommate, testified in preliminary hearings that Huguely had been drinking that Sunday night. And Chris Clements, his lacrosse teammate who lived below, testified that he heard Huguely stumbling down the stairs and locked his door just before midnight, around the time he is alleged to have killed Love.

While these facts confirm Huguely’s profligate ways, they might play into the hands of his defense attorneys. In fact, they could help get him get a light sentence.

Commonwealth attorney Warner D. “Dave” Chapman has charged Huguely with first-degree murder, which carries a potential sentence of 20 years to life. But the prosecutor must prove that Huguely intended to kill Love, his on-and-off girlfriend during their four years at the University of Virginia.

“Voluntary intoxication,” in other words, getting filthy drunk, is “not an excuse for any crime,” a judge ruled in a 1988 case. But in a murder case out of Prince William County in 1998, Judge Richard Potter wrote: “Virginia recognizes only one exception to this rule: voluntary intoxication can negate the deliberation and premeditation required for first-degree murder.”

If that ruling remains relevant (and I can find nothing to discount it), Huguely’s lawyers might stand a good chance of convincing the jury that their client, 22 at the time of the alleged murder, was too drunk to know what he was doing and therefore not guilty of premeditated murder, under the “too drunk” defense.

That would be a win for Huguely, who would then be up for second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of up to 40 years.

In an eerily similar 2003 case, where wealthy Virginia student Andrew Alston was accused of knifing a local man to death in a drunken spree, a jury convicted him of voluntary manslaughter. It carries a maximum sentence of ten years. Alston got three.

This week, Chapman will hammer home his case that Huguely intended to kill Yeardley Love. Huguely’s lawyers will argue he was too drunk to know what he had done.

The jury will have to sift through the beers and the blood to determine Huguely’s fate.