Nearly a decade after his conviction, it appears George Huguely V’s early release options have been exhausted following a certificate of appealability denial by the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player, was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2012 in Charlottesville Circuit Court in the killing of Yeardley Love, a fellow UVa student and lacrosse player and his on-again, off-again girlfriend. She was found dead in her apartment in May 2010, two weeks before she and Huguely were set to graduate.
In an unpublished per curiam opinion issued earlier this month, a panel of three 4th Circuit Court of Appeals judges dismissed Huguely’s attempt to appeal an earlier denial of his writ of haebus corpus and certificate of appealability by a judge from the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.
Per court documents, Huguely sough to appeal the district court’s order denying relief on his petition. However, the order is not appealable unless a circuit judge issues a certificate of appealability. Such a certificate of appealability is not issued unless there is “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right.”
To do this, a prisoner must demonstrate that reasonable jurists could find the district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong. When the district court denies relief on procedural grounds, the prisoner must demonstrate both that the dispositive procedural ruling is debatable and that the petition states a debatable claim of the denial of a constitutional right, according to the opinion.
“We have independently reviewed the record and conclude that Huguely has not made the requisite showing,” the denial order reads. “Accordingly, we deny a certificate of appealability and dismiss the appeal. We dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contention are adequately presented in the materials before this court and argument would not aid the decisional process.”
It is unclear what, if any, legal options for early release or appeal are open to Huguely in light of this opinion.
In the years since the trial, Huguely has attempted to appeal the case several times, and in 2015, his case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused his petition for certiorari on his claim that the Circuit Court denied his right to counsel by forcing him to proceed when one of his lawyers fell ill.
With direct methods of appeal exhausted, counsel for Huguely in April 2020 filed a writ of habeas corpus — a court order demanding that the director of the Virginia Department of Corrections deliver a prisoner to the court and show a valid reason for the person’s detention.
The writ, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, alleged a swath of Sixth Amendment violations. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a speedy and public trial.
In February, the federal court held an evidentiary hearing at which one of the jurors from Huguely’s trial testified that she recalled a dictionary being consulted, though she could remember few details about the book other than that it was bound and had been held by a different juror.
Huguely’s counsel argued that if a dictionary was consulted for the definition of “malice,” as the juror alleged, then it could have unfairly prejudiced the jury.
However, counsel for the state presented contrary testimony from all of the other jurors and surviving sheriff’s deputies, none of whom recalled a dictionary being read from or provided.
In an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Thomas T. Cullen ruled from the bench and denied Huguely’s petition for writ of habeas corpus. In March, Cullen also denied Huguely’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus and the certificate of appealability.
“The court further finds, for the reasons explained in its [December memorandum opinion], that petitioner has failed to make a substantial showing of the denial of his constitutional rights as required by [U.S. code],” Cullen wrote.
Huguely remains at the State Farm Enterprise Unit in Powhatan County and is currently set for release in 2030.