Lawyers for George Huguely V, convicted of killing fellow University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, argued on his behalf before the Virginia Court of Appeals today.
Huguely, 26, an inmate at the River North Correctional Center, was sentenced to 23 years in prison last year for the May 2010 second-degree murder of Love, his former girlfriend while he was heavily intoxicated.
A three judge panel of the appeals court asked both sides some tough questions.
Huguely contends his 6th Amendment right to counsel was violated when the Charlottesville trial judge had the case go forward when one of his lawyers became ill and could not attend.
He also argues that the trial judge improperly limited questioning of prospective jurors; that some of the jurors should not have been selected because of potential bias; and that the jury was given an incomplete instruction on the definition of malice.
Most of today’s arguments and questions from the judges focused on the question of the significance of one of Huguely’s trial lawyers missing a day and a half of the 12-day trial.
On the 9th day of his trial Rhonda Quagliana, one of his lawyers was ill. The jury was excused for the day. The next day Quagliana remained ill but Huguely’s other lawyer, Francis Lawrence, said he could continue if the witness schedule could be changed.
The judge agreed but Huguely then said he did not want the trial to continue without both his lawyers. The judge, however, denied Huguely’s request and the trial moved forward with some defense witnesses testifying out of order.
That, argued Paul D. Clement, one of Huguely’s current lawyers, violated Huguely’s right to counsel.
But appeals court Judge William G. Petty pointed out that it was Lawrence who suggested moving forward. In any case, said Petty, “I don’t understand what she would have added to the process.”
Clement said among other things it disrupted the order the witnesses were to be presented and suggested to the jury that Lawrence was Huguely’s key lawyer and that she was expendable.
“Both of the lawyers were very integral to the defense team,” said Clement.
Clement said the judge should have balanced the court’s need to proceed with Huguely’s right to counsel but that calculation was never made and it was “a very clear and identifiable error.”
Leah A. Darron, a senior assistant Virginia attorney general, said there was no violation of Huguely’s rights.
“There’s no development of a 6th amendment issue because it was never raised at a time the court could rule on it,” she said. the request for a continuance because of one lawyer’s illness was a matter of discretion for the trial judge’s discretion.
Judge Randolph A. Beales asked Darron about the significance of the witness order getting disrupted and the effect it might have on the defense. Darron said it was a matter of the judge’s sound discretion to allow.
“Witnesses can be called out of order and Mr. Lawrence called it up,” she said.
Given a chance to speak last, Clement said that the 6th amendment issued was raised at trial – “the person who raised it was the defendant himself.” Petty, however, said, “But the attorney didn’t really arise it to the trial court, did he?”
Clement said the right to counsel was involved and that “one lawyer can’t give it away.”
It is unclear when the three-judge panel will rule. Craig S. Cooley, one of Huguely’s lawyers, said after the hearing that, “It could be weeks, it could be months.”