Julie Carey, Art Lien
Yeardley Love had alcohol and prescription drugs in her system at the time of her death but not in lethal amounts, a coroner said Tuesday. (Courtroom sketches by Art Lien.)
The ex-girlfriend of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player had alcohol and prescription drugs in her system at the time of her death but not in lethal amounts, a coroner said Tuesday.
Dr. Michael Gormley, who performed the autopsy on Yeardley Love, returned to court Tuesday to testify for the prosecution at the trial of George Huguely V, who is accused of killing her in a violent encounter in May 2010.
Gormley said it was his conclusion that the 22-year-old died from cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, from blunt force trauma.
Other medical experts testified for the prosecution, saying Love likely suffered brain injuries that could have disrupted her heartbeat.
Defense attorneys have suggested Love's death could have been related to prescription medicine she took for attention deficit disorder.
Dr. Christine Fuller, a professor of neuropathology at Virginia Commonwealth University, took the stand and told the court that Love did not die of natural causes on May 3, 2010.
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. Fuller received Love's brain for review in her laboratory after the autopsy had been performed.
The testimony goes to the heart of the prosecution's case: that Huguely violently attacked Love, banging her head against the wall of her bedroom.
The defense, which has yet to present any witnesses, has suggested Love's death was an accident, possibly related to her use of a prescription medicine for attention deficit disorder.
During very technical testimony, Fuller said 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 her conclusion would have been if she had not been aware of Love's autopsy, Fuller said, "Just looking at the brain, no history, I would have called it trauma. No question.''
The testimony is important because of Huguely's claims, outlined in a police interrogation interview hours after Love was found dead, that he had grabbed Love and possibly shaken her but otherwise played down their physical encounter. He claimed she had banged her head against the wall of her apartment bedroom.
Fuller's testimony also undercut another argument advanced by Huguely's defense team: that the injuries to Love's brain were caused by CPR conducted by first responders. Fuller said that CPR could not cause the kind of trauma seen in Love's brain.
Dr. Beatriz Lopes, a neuropathologist and professor at the UVA medical school took the stand and agreed with Fuller's assessments. Lopes examined slides showing sections of Love's brain made available after the autopsy.
On Monday, Gormley testified that Love was nearly covered in bruises at the time of her death. Bruises were on her chest, one on her buttock and another on her neck that caused a hemorrhage near her carotid artery.
The medical examiner said Love also had a bruised eye and cuts and bruises inside her mouth. Gormley told the court that the injuries inside the mouth were consistent with smothering. He also said a blow to the side of her head could have been fatal.
Huguely has pleaded not guilty to murder and five other charges in connection with Love's death. Both seniors, Love was from suburban Baltimore, while Huguely is from Chevy Chase, Md.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Huguely could be sentenced to life in prison.
A sign was put up at the courthouse early this morning, announcing that if a verdict is not reached by Friday, court will be held on Saturday.