A federal judge has granted a limited appeal filed by a former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted a decade ago of murdering his ex-girlfriend.
George Huguely V is serving a 25-year sentence for the 2010 slaying of Yeardley Love, who was herself a lacrosse player at U.Va. and was two weeks away from graduation when she was killed.
In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Cullen in Roanoke ordered an evidentiary hearing be held to determine whether the jury improperly used a dictionary to look up the definition of “malice.”
A finding of malice was necessary to convict Huguely of murder, and his appellate attorneys say use of a dictionary would be inadmissible evidence and that the jury instructions contained a detailed legal definition of malice that should have guided the jury's discussions.
State judges had heard this same argument and rejected it. Only one juror said the jury received a dictionary from a bailiff; other jurors couldn't remember and one other juror explicitly denied a dictionary was used.
Cullen said an evidentiary hearing is needed to get to the bottom of whether a dictionary was used, and whether it could have affected the verdict. He rejected numerous other grounds for appeal cited by Huguely's attorneys.
In his ruling, Cullen also said Huguely will face an “immense“ burden to show that any use of a dictionary — if it occurred at all — would have unfairly prejudiced him but that he is “nevertheless entitled to that opportunity.”
Calls Tuesday to Huguely's appellate attorney were not immediately returned.
The office of Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who is fighting the appeal, declined comment.
The jury convicted Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, of second-degree murder at a trial in 2012 after about nine hours of deliberations. It rejected a first-degree murder conviction that could have resulted in a life sentence.