Last night, the jury returned with its verdicts — guilty on second-degree murder, guilty on grand larceny, not guilty on the other 4 charges. The jury then retired to consider a sentence recommendation, and returned a few hours later with sentences of 25 years for murder, 1 year for the grand larceny.
I know that I have been a part of the media frenzy, but last night was really sort of amazing. I was in my office trying to get some work done when the sentencing verdicts were announced; I got a phone call asking that I come over to the courthouse to do a quick interview. When I walked the block over to the courthouse, it was raining gently. About the time that I got there, it started pouring rain. The wind was blowing, and the rain was coming down at a 45 degree angle. And there were probably 50 TV cameras arrayed in front of the Circuit Courthouse. The prosecution had already made its statement to the public, and the reporters were waiting in the driving rain for a statement from Fran Lawrence, or the Love family, or just about any tidbit. I decided that this was a good time to go make friends with a reporter standing under a tent. It rained HARD for about 20 minutes. Fran Lawrence finally came out and made a brief statement, and he and Rhonda walked away — just a little before 11 PM, just in time for all of the TV people to go live on their 11 PM newscasts. As I walked past different reporters doing their stand-ups with the courthouse in the background, using similar words in similar cadences, I was struck with an idea — it was a fugue, in real life. All that it needed was a Mozart or a Bach to set it to music.
Here are the questions that remain that I have been asked the most in the last 12 hours:
What will happen at the hearing on April 16? I need to correct an earlier error, when it was reported — and I repeated — that the sentencing hearing would be held on April 16. In fact, April 16 will just be the time by which a sentencing date will be picked. April 16 is what is called “docket call,” when all of the cases that need to be set for trial are called and scheduled. Odds are that the sentencing hearing will actually be in the summer — perhaps July or August. Between now and then, a probation officer will prepare a presentence report. It will contain a lot of information about Huguely’s family, his background, his employment history, his school history. It is a confidential document, and will go only to the attorneys and to the judge. It will contain a set of Sentencing Guidelines. These Sentencing Guidelines are only that — guidelines. The jury did not have them; they are available to the judge so that the judge will have some idea of what other defendants similarly placed typically receive for those crimes. The Guidelines return three numbers — a bottom number, a top number, and a midpoint. (The midpoint is not the average of those other two — it is more like a median.) For George Huguely, the Guidelines will come out to a midpoint of about 226 months — roughly 19 years.
Some judges will suspend some portion of the sentence down to the midpoint of the Guidelines. Judge Hogshire has done so on occasion, but I can’t say how likely it is in this case that he would suspend any portion of it. There is no set philosophy that judges have on this — some judges say simply, “The community has spoken — live with it.” Other judges will look at the Presentence Report and say, “I now know some things that the jury did not know, and based on that new knowledge, I find the sentence higher than necessary to accomplish the purposes of incarceration, so I’ll make my own decision.” Other judges will say, “The Guidelines call for 19 years, and I value uniformity in sentencing, so I’ll suspend 7 years of the sentence.” Some judges just say, somewhat cryptically, “For reasons sufficient to the Court, I will suspend [fill in the blank].” In short — who knows. Judge Hogshire tends to be a stiff sentencer on crimes of violence, and I would be very surprised if he suspended much of the jury’s recommendation.
Where will he serve his time? After the April sentencing hearing, he will be moved to the Department of Corrections, and then to a maximum security prison. There he will be treated like any other person with a second-degree murder sentence to serve. Where he is placed will depend on how he scores on some initial evaluations, where they will look primarily at his past record, whether he has any history of gang involvement, how long a sentence he received, whether there is a history of drug abuse, etc. I see nothing about him that is in any way exceptional. Some of the folks who were tweeting about this last night were calling for him to be sent to Red Onion, Virginia’s most punitive prison. These people were expressing their anger at Huguely. But Red Onion is reserved for those who cause trouble in other maximum security prisons. No one gets sent there right away, and I can’t imagine that George Huguely will be a troublemaker in prison. I’d expect him to serve most of his time at a facility like Buckingham Correctional Center.
How much of the sentence will he actually serve? In Virginia, for crimes committed after January 1, 1995, there is no parole. If he is given 26 years to serve, he will serve 26 years, minus good time. Good time is generally between 10% and 15%, depending on his custody status and his record in prison. For a rough approximation, I’d figure that he’ll have about 3 years taken off his sentence. Plus he’ll get credit for the almost two years that he has been locked up so far.
Will there be an appeal? Yes. Will it be successful? I don’t have any information about any issue that the Virginia appellate courts would find meritorious, but often those issues arise in ways that the public would not be aware of. Will Rhonda Quagliana’s problem with witnesses on Saturday figure in that appeal? No. This would come up in a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, and those claims cannot be raised on direct appeal. If there is a habeas corpus petition filed, look for it in that petition. But that won’t come up for another couple of years.