George Huguely Sentenced to Just 23 Years for Death of Yeardley Love

Opinion, Crime, Murder, NakedLaw

A young man is convicted of beating a young woman to death, and he’s sentenced by a Virginia judge to just 23 years behind bars.  With time served and a good behavior reduction, he could serve just 18 years, out of prison at age 41.

How is this possible?

University of Virginia senior Yeardley Love was found two years ago face down in a bloody pillow, dead in her dorm room at the age of 22.  Like her killer, George Huguely, she was a senior lacrosse player.  Huguely accused her of infidelity, claims he only shoved her, and did not come to her room with any premeditated intent to harm her.

First Degree Murder vs. Accidental Killing

The Virginia jury reached a compromise between the prosecution’s theory of premeditated first degree murder and the defense theory of an accidental killing, finding Huguely guilty of second degree murder.  That difference in classification has a huge impact on Huguely’s sentence.  For first degree murder, he would likely have received a life sentence in that law-and-order state.  For second degree, the jury recommended 26 years, and yesterday the judge reduced that to 23 years behind bars with 3 years of supervision, based on local sentencing guidelines that give the defendant a break for lacking a significant criminal record, not using a weapon, his young age, his remorse, and other factors.

Many have expressed concern that a man who committed such a vicious crime, killing a young woman, would get such a short sentence.  But in American criminal law,  especially the law of homicide, the act itself is just one element.  The other all-important factor is intent, requiring juries and judges to get inside the mind of a killer, and determine from the evidence whether the killer decided in advance to take a life (did he bring a weapon?  Tell anyone what he was planning?  Threaten the victim?) or whether he was simply reckless in his violent behavior, as the jury found here.

The victim’s family members are not through with the justice system.  They plan on suing Huguely and the University of Virginia.  It’s an open-and-shut civil case against Huguely now that he’s been criminally convicted.  As for the case against the school, the family will have to prove that it was negligent in failing to protect their daughter.  Did the school know Huguely was dangerous?  Should it have known?  What precautions did they take?  Suits like this against schools and universities are increasingly common.

“We find no joy in others’ sorrow,” the Love family said in a dignified statement.  Indeed, in a case like this there are no winners.

See my comments about this case on NBC’s Today Show below:

Yeardley Love's Killer Sentenced on Today

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not necessarily those of