Coroner testifies at Va. lacrosse slaying trial

STEVE SZKOTAK Associated Press Published:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Medical experts testified Tuesday at the murder trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player that his ex-girlfriend suffered brain injuries consistent with blunt force trauma such as a punch and that alcohol and a prescription drug in her system did not play a role in her death.

Dr. Michael Gormley, who performed the autopsy on Yeardley Love, said his autopsy and subsequent examinations of her brain by other physicians leads him to believe that Love died as a result of cardiac arrhythmia, or an irregular heart, caused by blunt force trauma that injured her brain, disrupting the flow of blood to her heart.

The prosecution witnesses testified in the first-degree murder trial of George Huguely V, who is accused of killing 22-year-old during a final, violent encounter in the bedroom of her apartment on May 3, 2010.

Huguely's attorneys, who have not begun their presentation, have said Love died accidentally from an irregular heartbeat partly caused by taking prescription Adderall and drinking alcohol.

Gormley testified that Love's blood alcohol content was above the legal limit for drunken driving and that she had amphetamines -- a class of drugs that includes Adderall -- in her system, but neither present in high enough levels cause death.

Huguely, 24, of Chevy Chase, Md., is accused of first-degree murder in the death of Love, his on-again, off-again girlfriend and also a former U.Va. lacrosse player. Both were seniors. Love was from suburban Baltimore. Huguely has pleaded not guilty,

During earlier testimony, neuropathologist Christine E. 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.

The testimony bolsters the prosecution's argument that Huguely violently attacked Love, banging her head against the wall of her bedroom.

During highly technical testimony Tuesday, Fuller testified 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 she would have concluded if she weren't 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 shook her but otherwise played down their physical encounter. He claimed she had banged her head against the wall of her apartment bedroom.

On Monday, Gormley said his autopsy found evidence of suffocation, though it did not cause death, as well as a potentially deadly neck injury.

He also described a series of bruises on Love's legs, lower back, left forearm and hand and a small series of bruises on her chest, which he said could be caused by grabbing.

Love's most severe injuries were on the right side of her face. The injuries included a battered right eye, bruising to her neck and under her jaw.

Police officers have testified that Huguely had bruises on his arms and legs and knuckles the morning Love's body was found.

Huguely told a police detective who interviewed him hours after Love's body was found that his bruised knuckles were the result of a lacrosse injury.

The prosecution contends Huguely went to Love's apartment after an alcohol-fueled day of golf. He kicked a gaping hole in the door of her bedroom door when she refused to let him in, prosecutors said.

Witnesses who testified last week described their relationship as fiery and both had accused the other of infidelities.

If convicted of first-degree murder, Huguely could be sentenced to life in prison.