By Brandon Shulleeta
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (Reuters) - A day before University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love died, she went to dinner with the ex-boyfriend now accused of killing her and was seen embracing his family members and holding his hand, witnesses testified on Friday.
An attorney for George Huguely V, 24, attempted to create a rosier portrait of the couple's relationship than portrayed by prosecution witnesses during the past two weeks of Huguely's first-degree murder trial in Charlottesville.
The fellow senior university lacrosse players had an on-again, off-again relationship for about two years leading up to Love's death. Jurors previously heard testimony that Huguely had choked Love weeks before she died and wrote "I should have killed you" in an email.
On Friday, they watched surveillance video recorded at a restaurant the day before Love's May 2010 death.
"That's Georgie. And there's Yeardley. And they're holding hands," said Alina Massaro, Huguely's aunt, as the tape played.
Just over 24 hours after that outing, Love was found dead, face down in her bloody bedroom pillow. Prosecutors say a drunk Huguely walked into Love's apartment, kicked in her bedroom door, slammed her head against the wall and left her to die.
The defense focused on Friday on an incident in which Love was said to have struck Huguely with her purse.
Two young women said they had been watching a movie with Huguely when Love entered his apartment one night in February 2010. Love wanted to know who they were, Caroline Wattenmaker and Alice Billmire testified.
"She came over to his side of the couch and seemed pretty frustrated," said Billmire, who testified that she saw Love hit Huguely with her purse. "I think he just kept telling her to leave."
Other defense witnesses described Huguely as cordial.
Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, has pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, which include first-degree murder, robbery, burglary at night, breaking and entering, grand larceny and murder during a robbery.
Neuropathologists have testified that Love, 22, of Cockeysville, Maryland, died from blunt force trauma to the head. But defense expert neuropathologist Dr. Jan E. Leestma said Love might have suffocated in her bloody pillow instead, a conclusion prosecutors said would not explain her brain hemorrhages.
Earlier this week, Leestma acknowledged his theory that Love's brain hemorrhages might have occurred during CPR performed after her death was not widely accepted by the scientific community.
Friday's proceedings were cut short because Huguely defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana said she was sick again. There was no testimony on Thursday due to her illness.
Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire told Quagliana's colleague, Francis Lawrence, he wants proof of her illness. The case was expected to continue on Saturday with the final defense witnesses and possibly closing arguments.
"The defense needs to be ready to go tomorrow," Hogshire said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Cynthia Johnston)