Being a defense attorney has to be one of the most morally challenging occupations. Chances are, you’re dealing with a person who is guilty of a crime. Your role, somehow, is to either play the devil’s advocate or craft a strong enough defense that somehow lessens the severity of the crime your client has committed … or somehow justifies the crime your client has committed.
If you’re George Huguely, your team of attorneys has gone public with its defense in the Yeardley Love murder case. Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, is accused of killing his former girlfriend in May of 2010. The trial began Monday with jury selection in Charlottesville, Va.
From the Baltimore Sun:
Huguely’s lawyers are expected to argue that Love was taking prescription medication and drinking the night she died, which may have contributed to her death. Huguely has admitted to police that he fought with Love that night, shaking her repeatedly so that her head hit a wall, but he denies killing her.
“It is undisputed that a man hurt a woman. It is undisputed, that is fact,” Rhonda Quagliana, one of Huguely’s lawyers, said during jury questioning. She also said the “cause of death is a contested issue in this case.”
A former college classmate told me that the defense’s job is to find enough doubt in the prosecution’s case.
But the case of George Huguely and the murder of Yeardley Love – academic and athletic products of private schools, part of a close-knit athletic community both at the University of Virginia and in the enclave of lacrosse – expose something deeper: another angle of the underbelly of upper-middle class suburbia.
I know why this resonates with me. Because I knew many teenagers like Huguely and Love – pretty, privileged, popular, athletic, always seemingly surrounded by their “best friends” and their “fellas” and the members of their “clan.” There was a certain sense of elitism that surrounded this small caste, and after the details of the George Huguely case emerged, I wondered something: how did the boys in this artificially powerful caste treat these girls? And how did the girls treat the boys? And how did they collectively treat each other? Did they – with the exception of a few individuals – treat each other how they treated their seemingly lesser classmates?
But the case also hit me in another way: We approach the 20-year anniversary of the murder of one of our classmates.
Yes, 20 years ago this month, the former quarterback at my high school killed another classmate over a girl.
People don’t believe me when I tell the story. The quarterback drove a Corvette, had the cutest girlfriends and was the centerpiece of the best parties … and he killed another guy over a girl. As the months went by, following his arrest, more of us found out from each other about his behavior, both prior to the murder and growing up with us. We witnessed some pretty misogynistic behavior from a teenager yet somehow we socially condoned it. But – and this has been asked in the case of Huguely and Love – how could this all have been stopped?
The case was barely a whisper at the most recent reunion – probably because we were all having such a good time, we didn’t stop to recall the controversy and the tragedy. But in 1992, the case polarized our school. It still polarizes us. Our former classmate pled guilty to first-degree murder and is still incarcerated. Each time he asks for parole, he is met by a group of former classmates who voice their disgust and outrage that, years later, he still asks for a chance at life “on the outside.” At the same time, he has a group of friends who attend each court hearing in his support … and a handful of them who still contend that somehow, the murder was justified.
But what justifies one person taking another human’s life? Better yet, what justifies our decision to condone it? Or to turn the other cheek and condone the actions that lead to such a tragedy?
I’m going to add a note to this: if you or anybody you know is a victim of domestic violence, you have the power to do something about the situation. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), an organization that will help you or direct you to resources that will help you.
If you’re a teenager or a college student and know someone in this situation, take your concerns to someone you trust: a teacher, a parent, a coach, a school administrator. In the wake of Yeardley Love’s death, I urged my friends and family who were parents, teachers and coaches to reach out to their children, students and athletes and discuss the topic of domestic violence and the social issues that teenagers may confront.