By STEVE SZKOTAK Associated Press
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A coroner and other doctors testified Tuesday at the murder trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player that his ex-girlfriend died of injuries caused by blunt-force trauma and that alcohol and a prescription drug she ingested didn’t play a role in her death.
Dr. Michael Gormley said the autopsy he performed on Yeardley Love and other doctors’ examinations of her brain led him to conclude that she died from cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, caused by blunt force trauma that injured her brain, disrupting the flow of blood to her heart.
The doctors testified for the prosecution during the first-degree murder trial of George Huguely V. He is accused of killing the 22-year-old Love during a violent encounter in her bedroom on May 3, 2010. The prosecution is expected to rest on Wednesday after presenting nearly 40 witnesses over a week.
Huguely’s attorneys, who have not begun their presentation, have said Love died accidentally from an irregular heartbeat partly caused by taking the prescription drug Adderall and drinking alcohol.
Gormley testified that Love’s blood alcohol content was above the legal limit for drunken driving and that she had amphetamines – a class of drugs that includes Adderall – in her system, but neither was present in high-enough levels to cause death.
Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, Md., has pleaded not guilty to killing Love, his on-again, off-again girlfriend and also a former U.Va. lacrosse player. Both were seniors. Love was from suburban Baltimore.
During earlier testimony Tuesday, neuropathologist Christine E. Fuller described a lesion on the lower portion of Love’s brain.
“What kind of lesion is that?” asked prosecutor Dave Chapman.
“I would call that a contusion. That’s a fancy word for a bruise,” Fuller responded.
Asked what the bruise would signify, Fuller replied, “It means there’s been blunt force trauma to the head.”
Fuller also described another injury near the base of the brain in the vicinity of the spinal cord that would have been caused by torque – a violent twisting.
That injury, she said, had potentially lethal consequences. Another witness also supported the conclusion.
The testimony bolsters the prosecution’s argument that Huguely violently attacked Love, banging her head against the wall of her bedroom.
During highly technical testimony, Fuller testified she found no pre-existing problems with Love’s brain. The bruising was found on what she described as the underside of the temporal lobe. She said it was the result of the brain moving within the skull, and compared it to a passenger in a car that comes to an abrupt halt.
Asked by Chapman what she would have concluded if she weren’t aware of Love’s autopsy, Fuller said, “Just looking at the brain, no history, I would have called it trauma. No question.”
Huguely claimed in a police interrogation interview hours after Love was found dead that he had grabbed and possibly shook her, but he otherwise downplayed their physical encounter. He claimed she had banged her head against the wall of her apartment bedroom.
On Monday, Gormley said his autopsy found evidence of suffocation, though it did not cause death, as well as a potentially deadly neck injury.
He also described a series of bruises on Love’s legs, lower back, left forearm and hand and a small series of bruises on her chest, which he said could be caused by grabbing.
Love’s most severe injuries were on the right side of her face. The injuries included a battered right eye, bruising to her neck and under her jaw.
Police officers have testified that Huguely had bruises on his arms and legs and knuckles the morning Love’s body was found.
Huguely told a police detective who interviewed him hours after Love’s body was found that his bruised knuckles were the result of a lacrosse injury.
The prosecution presented a series of witnesses late Tuesday who testified about blood patterns in Love’s bedroom and DNA and blood evidence. One said Love’s blood was not found on Huguely’s clothing but was present on bedding and her clothes.
Witnesses who testified last week described their relationship as fiery and both had accused the other of infidelities.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Huguely could be sentenced to life in prison.