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Lacrosse suspect once deemed unflappable

A University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of fatally beating a female player was once described by his high school coach as easygoing and unflappable.
Image: Yeardley Love
Yeardley Love plays lacrosse in a 2009 photo provided to msnbc.comCourtesy Matt Riley / UVa Media
/ Source: The Associated Press

Four years ago, George Huguely’s prep school lacrosse coaches looked at him and found an easygoing prankster with a lighthearted attitude and the skills to earn him a spot on one of the country’s top college programs.

On Wednesday, police said they had looked in the University of Virginia senior’s apartment and found a crimson-stained Cavaliers lacrosse jersey and a letter to the woman Huguely is accused of beating to death, a senior on UVA’s women’s team.

The arrest of Huguely and the death this week of Yeardley Love, both 22, have struck the highly ranked teams as they prepare for the NCAA tournament and shaken some on the picturesque campus where students are studying for finals.

Love’s funeral was set for Saturday in Maryland. Huguely remained jailed on a charge of first-degree murder. The teams will compete in the tournament, and the university’s athletic director said Love’s family supported that decision.

Love’s roommate and the roommate’s boyfriend found Yeardley’s battered body early Monday. Police have said Huguely and Love were once involved in a relationship, but that it had ended. According to a search warrant affidavit, Huguely kicked in her bedroom door and told them her head hit a wall several times as he shook her.

His attorney, Francis Lawrence, called Love’s death an accident.

In court documents filed Wednesday, Charlottesville police said they took the stained jersey, the letter to Love and other items from Huguely’s apartment hours after Love’s body was discovered, according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress. The court records were later sealed.

The 6-foot-2, 209-pound Huguely was charged just days before he and Love were to graduate and play in the NCAA tournament for the Cavaliers, with both teams considered contenders for the national title. Such an opportunity seemed like a done deal for Huguely as far back as 2006, when he was the star player at the $28,826-a-year, all-boys Landon School in Bethesda, Md., which churns out players for top college programs like Virginia and Duke.

“Very frankly, this kind of killing is so rare that there are few protocols in higher education to deal with it,” University President John Casteen said.

Peter Preston and his family were neighbors of the Huguelys for more than a decade, and their children grew up playing together. He said the allegations against Huguely, whom he knew as “Georgie,” were baffling since he always seemed like “just a wonderful, charming, polite young man.”

Preston said his son, Michael, who is one year older than George, had grown up playing lacrosse with him, but Michael and Huguely saw less of each as they grew older and went to different high schools.

“George is not a monster,” Preston said.

During a 45-minute candle light vigil at a packed campus amphitheater that holds 1,500, Casteen urged those in the standing-room only crowd to step forward and report when they suspect incidents of domestic violence. He said he hoped that Love’s death would “inspire an anger and a sense of outrage” to ensure no person suffers the same fate.

“Tuck away in your soul the knowledge that neither Yeardley Love nor any woman attacked ever deserved it,” Casteen said.

As Casteen spoke, Love’s former teammates comforted each other and cried.

At Landon, Huguely once snatched coach Rob Bordley’s car keys from the coach’s office, drove around the school to where the coach was and talked with him from the driver’s seat until it dawned on Bordley what had happened, according to a 2006 article in The Washington Post.

Bordley described the high-scoring Huguely then as Landon’s premier player, with a top-notch attitude.

“He’s always in an upbeat mood,” Bordley said. “Nothing really fazes him. I’ve asked my assistant coaches if they’ve ever seen him rattled and they said no. He’s just unflappable.”

Two other accounts in the 2006 story referred to Huguely joking about women at lacrosse games. In one, he said he bet a Landon assistant coach that if he pulled off a big play by picking off a pass, the assistant coach’s fiancee would kiss him. Huguely made the play, then asked the assistant coach for the woman’s number.

He also cracked wise about “a good-looking EMT” who treated him in 2005 for heat cramps. He said his teammates “wanted to see if I could get her number.”

Huguely continued to make a name for himself in college. According to his profile on the Cavaliers’ website, Huguely was majoring in anthropology and was vice president of a student branch of Operation Smile, a charity that helps fund reconstructive surgeries for children with deformities such as a cleft palate.

He also got into his share of trouble, however.

Police in Lexington, Va., about 70 miles from Charlottesville, said that in November 2008, Huguely was shocked with a stun gun by an officer after resisting arrest on public intoxication. He pleaded guilty to two charges last year, was placed on six months’ probation and was given a 60-day sentence, which was suspended.

The arresting officer, R.L. Moss, said Tuesday that she felt it necessary to use a stun gun because Huguely became abusive and she was no match for his size.

Both Casteen and Athletic Director Craig Littlepage said neither school officials or Huguely’s coaches know of his 2008 arrest in Lexington on public intoxication and resisting arrest charges. Police say they had to use a stun gun to restrain him.

Casteen said current reporting laws don’t require off-campus authorities to report to colleges and universities when a student is arrested. He said it was a gap in the law that needed to be fixed. Officials also did not know anything about Huguely’s relationship with Love.

Bordley, whom the Landon School has declined to make available for interviews, stoutly defended his former players then at Duke University during a 2006 scandal. A stripper falsely accused three Duke players, including one from Landon, of rape at a team party.

Bordley told the Post then that in the wake of the incident, he was repeatedly warning his team about the risks of alcohol abuse. Huguely was a member of the Landon team at that point and his father was quoted as counseling him about staying out of trouble once he got to U.Va.

“Regardless of what winds up happening, you have to learn from this experience and take what you can from it,” George Huguely Sr. said. “You always have to remember and can’t let yourself be in a situation where something like this could happen.”

Huguely’s parents left his brief court hearing Tuesday without commenting.