Autopsy can't rule out fall in lacrosse player's death

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2012 8:23 PM
Autopsy can't rule out fall in lacrosse player's death

By Brandon Shulleeta

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (Reuters) - A medical examiner testified on Monday that a fall could have caused fatal brain trauma for a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, potentially bolstering the defense of the fellow student accused of killing her.

George Huguely V, 24, is standing trial in Charlottesville, Virginia, on charges of first-degree murder and other allegations stemming from the 2010 death of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, his on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Love, of Cockeysville, Maryland, appeared to have died from blunt force trauma when her head banged against a large surface, assistant medical examiner Bill Gormley testified on Monday.

Gormley said it appeared unlikely that Love's brain trauma was caused by a fall to the ground, in part because she didn't suffer a major nose injury.

But the medical expert agreed with defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana that the possibility of a fall could not be ruled out by the autopsy.

The defense has argued that Love's death was a tragic accident. Prosecutors say Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, broke down Love's bedroom door in her apartment in May 2010, battered her against a wall and left her bleeding.

Love, who like Huguely had been drinking that evening, was found by her roommate and an acquaintance face down on her bed.

Gormley said the autopsy showed significant bruising on Love's knuckles, left forearm and left index finger. There were also oval-shaped bruises on her chest, consistent with the size of someone's fingertips, he said.

The trial, now in its second week, has drawn national media attention to the normally quiet college town in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Love and Huguely were both seniors and members of the university's nationally ranked men's and women's lacrosse teams at the time of the incident.

Huguely admitted to police that he kicked in Love's bedroom door in May 2010, wrestled with her and "may have shook her a little bit."

But in a police interrogation video played for jurors last week, Huguely said Love bloodied herself by banging her own head against the wall. She had only a bloody nose when Huguely left her room, his attorneys have said.

Investigators on Monday testified that they noticed Huguely had fresh injuries on his knuckles and arms the morning after Love was found dead. The defense team has said those injuries resulted from lacrosse rather than a brawl with Love.

Blood-colored stains were also found in Huguely's bathtub as detectives were investigating Love's death, according to Charlottesville police Officer Eric Pendleton.

Forensic scientists did not answer whether those red stains were indeed blood during the proceedings on Monday.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)