(WASHINGTON) — A key defense witness’ testimony in George Huguely V’s murder trial has been tainted because defense attorneys broke court rules by improperly sending their medical expert information about a prosecution witness’ testimony.
Huguely, 24, faces trial for the May 3, 2010 murder of Yeardley Love, 22, a star lacrosse player at the University of Virginia and a senior weeks away from graduation. Huguely was also a lacrosse player for the school’s nationally ranked team.
The medical expert will be limited in what he can talk about on the stand because of emails sent after the trial had begun.
On Saturday, Judge Edward Hogshire ruled that defense witness Dr. Ronald Uscinski will still be allowed to testify, but not about any topics that were addressed in three emails sent to him from the defense team, including CPR.
The defense attorneys said the mistake does not affect their witness’ credibility.
Hogshire told the defense that “this is an incredibly important issue” and he was “incredibly disappointed” in their conduct.
“It was done by council and it was done in violation of the rule on witnesses,” the judge said.
Virginia’s “Rule on Witnesses” prohibits witnesses from being empowered with certain information before their testimony once the trial is in progress.
Prosecutor Warner “Dave” Chapman provided the judge with three emails from the defense team in which defense witness Uscinski is included. The emails reportedly included information that summarized prosecution witness Dr. Renu Virmani’s testimony.
Virmani is a cardiac pathologist who testified that “nothing was wrong with [Yeardley Love’s] heart that caused her death.” This was central to the prosecution’s case in disproving the defense’s claim that Love died from a fatal combination of alcohol and Adderall that stopped her heart.
The prosecution alleges that Love’s heart was fine and that she died from blunt force trauma to the head after Huguely beat her severely in her bedroom and left her to die.
Uscinski told the judge he did not recall seeing the email, but the judge could decide that he is no longer allowed to testify.
When attorneys told the witness what his restrictions were since the email drama his response was, “Are you kidding me?”
Three emails were in question.
Two were sent on Feb. 10 and originated from Dr. Jack Daniel, a pathologist who testified in a December 2010 preliminary hearing that Love died from a caridiac arrhythmia due to drugs in her system, not from a severe beating from Huguely.
On one email, the subject line read, “RE: Subject Testimony” and the subject on the other was “RE: Dr. Vermani.” The emails described Vermani’s testimony.
The third email originated from defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana and was sent to three people, including Uscinski. It included information about CPR and blood reperfusion, tissue damage caused when blood returns to the tissue after a period when oxygen has been lacking.
“It is beyond belief that we are having to address this in this type of trial,” Chapman said. He called the issues “something that should’ve never happened.”
Chapman argued that the defense’s witness has an advantage by knowing the topics at play ahead of time and that his knowledge is a “prejudice to [the] commonwealth.”
Court resumed on Saturday after a two-day delay due to a defense attorney’s illness, but jurors have still not been brought into court while attorneys argue over the potentially rule-breaking emails.
The defense is expected to present two more medical experts before resting its case. Prosecutors have said they hope to have their rebuttals today. If attorneys do not begin closing arguments today, they will present them on Wednesday and then hand the case over to the jurors.
The Charlottesville, Va., trial resumed briefly Friday, over Huguely’s objection, but went into recess a few witnesses later because Quagliana was the attorney who has handled the defense’s key medical witnesses. Huguely preferred not to proceed without both his lawyers, but the judge initially decided to carry on.
“We will not have any difficulty finishing tomorrow,” Quagliana’s co-counsel Fran Lawrence reassured the judge.
But the judge later postponed the session after Lawrence informed the court that Quagliana was too ill to defend her client.
The judge is expected to hand the case over to the jury Saturday or Wednesday.
“I think the jury will be persuaded that [Huguely] engaged in conduct that caused her death and there was some sufficient culpability,” University of Virginia law professor Anne Coughlin told ABCNews.com. “The issue is how culpable. How culpable was his mental state?
“We know that he was in that room, that there was some conduct that caused death and the issue is what was in his mind?” Coughlin said.
Although Huguely was charged with first degree murder, along with five other charges, Coughlin anticipates that the judge will present the jurors with instructions that include a menu of options that include second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter.
Based on what Huguely is ultimately charged with, he faces anywhere from one year to life in prison.
“So you can see the stakes involved for both sides,” Coughlin said. “It’s huge. And it all comes down to his mental state.”
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