RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - A former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend should get a new trial, his attorney told an appeals court on Wednesday, saying he had been effectively denied the right to counsel.
Attorney Paul Clement told the Virginia Court of Appeals that George Huguely, 26, had objected to his 2012 jury trial going ahead when one of his attorneys became ill from stomach flu and could not question crucial medical witnesses.
A judge let the trial in Charlottesville proceed, violating Huguely’s right to counsel of his choice under the U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment, Clement said.
Huguely, from Chevy Chase, Maryland, was convicted of second-degree murder last year for the May 2010 beating death of his ex-girlfriend, Yeardley Love, 22. Both he and Love were members of the university’s nationally ranked lacrosse teams.
The case drew national attention to issues of domestic violence and alcohol abuse, and led to state and university reforms in reporting domestic violence. The Love family also started a foundation to honor Yeardley and promote education about relationship violence.
Prosecutors said Love, from Cockeysville, Maryland, died of blunt force trauma after Huguely forced his way into her apartment bedroom and slammed her head against a wall in a drunken rage.
Huguely was also convicted of grand larceny and sentenced in August 2012 to 23 years in prison.
The three-judge appeals panel withheld a decision following a 50-minute hearing. It was unclear when they might rule.
Leah Darron, a senior Virginia assistant attorney general, argued that Huguely’s co-counsel never mentioned during the trial that his client’s right to choose his own attorney was being violated.
She told the court that the co-counsel said he was ready to examine other witnesses without the ill lawyer being present.
Clement told the court that it was Huguely’s right to raise the Sixth Amendment issues.
“It was not the right of the retained attorney to give it away,” Clement said.
Editing by Ian Simpson, Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Bob Burgdorfer