By Brandon Shulleeta
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (Reuters) - A former University of Virginia lacrosse player was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Thursday for the 2010 murder of his ex-girlfriend, who was beaten to death shortly before she was due to graduate.
A jury found George Huguely, 24, guilty in February of second-degree murder and grand larceny in the death of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, who prosecutors said died of blunt force trauma after Huguely slammed her head against a wall in a drunken rage.
Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire sentenced Huguely to 23 years in prison -- the maximum within the guidelines for the murder conviction -- followed by a three-year suspended sentence during which Huguely will be on probation.
Hogshire said Huguely's attack on Love was a "brutal beating" that had been foreshadowed by previous acts of violence.
Huguely, who did not testify during his two-week trial, apologized on Thursday to Love's family. "I hope and pray you find peace," he said.
Huguely, who is from Chevy Chase, Maryland, was arrested after Love's body was found on May 3, 2010, face down on a bloody pillow in her apartment near the university in Charlottesville, a college town 117 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
Both Huguely and Love were seniors and had played on the school's nationally ranked men's and women's lacrosse teams.
The initial charges against Huguely included first-degree murder as well as grand larceny for stealing Love's computer from her apartment.
Prosecutors said Huguely entered the apartment while Love was sleeping, kicked in her bedroom door and then slammed her head against the wall.
Huguely's defense team said there was no evidence he intended to kill Love, of Cockeysville, Maryland, and suggested instead that she had suffocated on the bloody pillow.
A mixed picture of Huguely emerged on Thursday during the four-hour sentencing hearing, which was attended by his parents, who did not speak.
Multiple witnesses said Huguely had a history of excessive alcohol consumption.
A former lacrosse teammate testified that Huguely attacked him while he was sleeping in early 2009 for having a romantic fling with Love. The teammate, Gavin Gill, said Huguely punched him in the face repeatedly, but the two men later made up.
Four defense witnesses painted a friendlier image of Huguely, whom they called polite, well-liked and respectful.
The Reverend Joseph Scordo, a Charlottesville Roman Catholic priest who has visited Huguely in jail weekly for the past two years, said the former lacrosse player appears to now be a man of deep faith.
Huguely avoided a potential life sentence when jurors found him guilty of the lesser charge of second-degree murder rather than the first-degree murder charge on which he was tried.
He will receive credit for the more than two years he has already spent in jail since his arrest.
In a statement released after the hearing, Love's mother and sister, Sharon and Lexie Love, said they found "no joy in others' sorrow" and would work to prevent similar tragedies through a foundation they created.
"We are relieved to put this chapter behind us," they said.
(Reporting by Brandon Shulleeta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Eric Beech and Lisa Shumaker)