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Jury recommends 26 years for ex-lacrosse player

From Michael Christian, InSession
updated 12:27 AM EST, Thu February 23, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Huguely's attorney indicates he will appeal the verdict
  • Jury recommends 25 years for second-degree murder, 1 year for grand larceny
  • Judge has option of accepting the sentence or imposing a lesser one

Charlottesville, Virginia (CNN) -- A jury late Wednesday recommended a prison sentence of 26 years for a former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted of second-degree murder and grand larceny in the death of his ex-girlfriend.

The judge has the option of accepting the sentence or imposing a lesser one. The recommendation is 25 years on the murder count and one year for grand larceny.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 16.

George Huguely was found not guilty on the most serious charge -- first-degree murder -- in the May 2010 death of Yeardley Love, 22. He was acquitted on several other charges, including robbery, and breaking and entering to commit larceny.

Huguely, 24, showed no emotion during the reading of the verdict in the guilt phase. He kept his head down when the sentence was announced. When the jurors entered the jury box, none of them looked at him.

Outside the courtroom, Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Warner D. Chapman said he appreciated the work of the jury but said there was there was nothing that will "make good the terrible and tragic loss to the Love family."

"There are no winners in this case. There is nothing but loss everywhere," Chapman told reporters. He did not take any questions, saying he would wait until after the sentencing to comment further.

Huguely's attorney, Francis Lawrence, said he was disappointed in the verdict, saying his client displayed "amazing resilience and courage."

"He's hopeful. He's spiritual," he said in brief comments following the verdict. "And we look forward to some corrections on what happened here tonight."

Inside the courtroom, Huguely's family members were clearly upset by the verdict and the jury's sentencing recommendation.

The sentencing range for a second-degree murder conviction is between five and 40 years.

Authorities alleged that a jealous Huguely caused fatal injuries during a fight with Love, also a lacrosse player at the university. The incident occurred at her Charlottesville apartment.

The defense argued Love's death was an accident -- a contention not accepted by jurors, who found that Huguely acted with malice.

A first-degree murder guilty verdict would have required them to find that Huguely's actions were willful, deliberate and premeditated, according to Virginia law.

Jurors had the option, besides acquittal, of finding Huguely guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in Love's death. They deliberated about nine hours Wednesday before convicting Huguely.

Love's mother and sister released a statement late Wednesday.

"Time has not made us miss Yeardley any less. In fact quite the opposite," their statement read. "It is truly devastating to wake up each day and realize that she is no longer here. Yeardley's contagious smile, kind spirit and gentle touch have left this world, but we know that heaven has an angel like no other."

In their closing statements in the sentencing phase, the prosecution said a letter by Huguely to Love, found after her death, blamed his problems on alcohol use.

Huguely was convicted of grand larceny in the theft of a computer belonging to Love.

A defense attorney told jurors during closing arguments Saturday in Charlottesville that Huguely contributed to Love's death, but did not kill her and had no intent to do so.

"Yes, George contributed to her death. But no, he didn't kill her ... he left there with her alive, and that is not in dispute. There was no intentional killing, because she wasn't dead when he left," Lawrence said. "There's no intent to rob and no intent to kill."

Lawrence described his client as "stupid, drunk -- but not calculating."

Police were initially called to Love's off-campus Charlottesville apartment by a roommate who reported "a possible alcohol overdose," Police Chief Tim Longo said at the time.

A medical examiner later ruled that Love died of blunt force trauma.

The prosecutor also told jurors that Love's death was slow and painful, claiming she could have remained alive for a couple of hours after Huguely left her apartment.

InSession's Jean Casarez and Mayra Cuevas contributed to this report.

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