Ex-lacrosse Player's Trial Shines Light On U.Va.

Published February 4, 2012 6:45PM (EST)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — In the nearly two years since a University of Virginia lacrosse player was charged with killing his ex-girlfriend, it's become easier for possible abuse victims to get a restraining order and students must tell the school if they've ever been arrested.

Those are the most concrete policy changes since the May 2010 death of Yeardley Love, who played on the women's lacrosse team. School officials and students also have tried to make the culture on campus one in which people look out for each other and aren't afraid to report relationship violence.

The trial of Love's ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V, begins Monday with jury selection. He faces first-degree murder and several other charges. The state medical examiner's office has said Love, 22, of Cockeysville, Md., died from head injuries. Police said Huguely told investigators he kicked in Love's bedroom door and then shook her, causing her head to hit a wall several times.

His attorneys have said she died accidentally from an irregular heartbeat partly caused by taking prescription Adderall and drinking alcohol. They did not return telephone messages left by The Associated Press.

"There was no question that the impact of Yeardley Love's death was felt very strongly, and you had, I think, a very visceral, keen awareness of the need to look out for one another, to put your hand up sooner," said Allen Groves, U.Va.'s dean of students.

Groves said he now makes a point of asking students to discuss issues such as alcohol use and abusive relationships.

The school had required since 2004 that students disclose whether they've been arrested or convicted of crimes. Starting in the 2010-11 school year, students are prompted each fall semester to make such disclosures when they log in to the university computer system.

There's no mechanism to ensure students are truthful, though failure to disclose would violate the school's honor code and could lead to expulsion.

That change came after it was learned that Lexington police had arrested Huguely in 2008 after a drunken confrontation with an officer.

Groves said fewer than 2 percent of U.Va.'s 21,000 students have reported an arrest — most involving traffic violations such as speeding or first-time alcohol offenses.

Virginia's General Assembly passed a law in 2011 that expands criteria under which people can seek protective orders. The measure allows people in dating relationships or those who face threatening co-workers to more easily obtain such an order. A legislative panel already was studying proposed changes at the time of Huguely's arrest, but the case gave the issue more urgency.

Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Md., and Love were involved in a two-year relationship that ended not long before her death, and police have said they have evidence of an email Love sent Huguely about one of their fights.

Love's death also spawned more awareness of relationship violence and helped lead several student groups to sponsor educate the community on "bystander intervention," said Magdalena Leininger, president of the student-run Sexual Assault Facts and Education.

The conversations are ongoing because "there's more work to be done," she said.

U.Va. also started a victim-witness assistance program two months after Love's death. The initiative, which already was in the works, helps victims and witnesses of crimes ranging from misdemeanors to robbery and sexual assault, said program coordinator Angela M. Tabler, who helps clients file for protective orders and can accompany them to court.

"We hope they come forward. We don't pressure them, but say, 'This is what is available to you,'" Tabler said. "I've had a few concerned friends who have come, and I'll give them information they can give to their friends, even if they're not ready to come forward."

Students Jessie Cappello and Sarah Carroll said the case, and how the university has dealt with it since 2010, has increased their awareness about safety and prevention.

"It also makes us think who we are friends with and if we have friends who would help us," Cappello said.

Love's aunt, Debbie McChesney, said that many family members plan to be in the courtroom for the two-week trial.

She declined to discuss the case, saying that the family, including McChesney's sister — Love's mother, Sharon — would rather focus on keeping Love's memory alive.

At the university, Love's death led to introspection, as the school's new president, Teresa Sullivan, held events the following fall that addressed the question of "Are we a caring community?"

Groves said some unfairly have vilified the so-called "lacrosse culture." Athletes are no more likely than other students to get themselves into trouble, he said, and though "Miss Love's death involved two athletes, it just as well could have involved two graduate students."

The university said men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, women's lacrosse coach Julie Myers, and all team members were off-limits for interviews.

Patricia M. Lampkin, vice president and chief student affairs officer, sent an email to students Wednesday about the upcoming trial, including where to turn for help if they need it.

"As the trial proceeds, details emanating from the courtroom may create or compound emotional distress for students or others with whom you live, socialize or have classes," the email said. "We are fortunate to live in a safe community, where mutual respect and concern are the norm rather than the exception. The support and concern that you demonstrate toward other members of the community will be even more important during the next two to three weeks."

By Salon Staff

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