I’ve been thinking about the media circus that is the Huguely trial. While I think Judge Ted Hogshire’s rulings on public access to the proceedings have generally been pretty good, I think he should have made arrangements to have the exhibits made more available to the public. At the moment, we — including yours truly — actually know almost nothing about the injuries that Yeardley Love suffered. We know what Dave Chapman and Fran Lawrence have said, and we know that the expert witnesses have described them. But predictably, Dave and Fran’s descriptions differ greatly, and the expert testimony has been fairly clinical and not terribly descriptive. Because the exhibits were shown on the TV monitor system in the courtroom, which was not viewable by anyone other than the jury, the judge and the parties, none of the reporters has seen any of them.
I was particularly struck by this as I was being interviewed by Jean Casarez of Court TV, now called In Session. It was Friday morning, in the few minutes before they went live to the Jason Young murder trial in North Carolina — a case that had even more sex and pathos than the Huguely/Love trial because Young was accused of killing his wife because she wouldn’t have an abortion. I don’t remember her words, but she said something to the effect that Huguely had beaten Love to a pulp. She described, in a sensational tone of voice, the fact that he had beaten her so severely that her brain was actually bouncing around within her skull. She was describing the coup-contrecoup injuries to the brain characteristic of most concussions, and the phenomenon of the brain bouncing off both sides of the inner skull is not the fairly common mechanism of injury. All that was different was the graphic, if somewhat flippant, language used to describe that injury. It happens in all whiplash cases. It never occurred to me, when I was trying a whiplash case, that I would want to be so hysterical about it.
Of course, she doesn’t know any more than I do about the facts of the case, and probably less. I have gone back through the notes that are available from media reports (WVIR’s reports are the best, in my view), and the only person who attempted to catalog the injuries was the medical examiner, Dr. William Gormley. Dr. Gormley testified that she had bruises on her right calf, knee, and thigh, left leg, left forearm, and that there was a large bruise over the knuckle with an incision leading into it. He also noted round bruises on Love’s chest, which he said could have been caused by “grabbing with fingers.” She had an internal hemorrhage on the right side of her neck, under the jaw, causing bleeding from the carotid artery. The injury was caused by blunt force trauma, and the bruising around it suggested pressure was applied to the neck. The prosecutor had Gormley confirm that the pressure applied could “slow or stop the heart.” He found a large abrasion under her chin and under her lip, and pointed out bruising on her lower lip and entire right eye, with a large abrasion down her right cheek. Gormley said there was no injury to Love’s nose itself. Gormley found a 2-by-3 inch bruise on right side of her head — consistent, he said, with an injury serious enough to cause brain damage. There were also smaller areas of hemorrhage further back on Love’s head. On cross-examination he agreed that there was no laceration, abrasion, skull fracture or brain injury at that site on the right side of her head; no injury on the left side of her face or head; no “big pattern of injury that suggests significant grabbing”; no injury to her upper body that suggests a force “like hitting a wall”; no facial fractures or broken teeth. Gormley also confirmed that the areas of injury on Love’s lip, her chin, the right side of her head, and her eye are consistent with a “single impact event.” He then said that the only region of Love’s neck where there was bleeding and contusion was on right side. The prosecution medical witnesses all said that to external observation, the brain had no significant injury; the injuries were visible only once the brain was dissected.
As I hear the prosecution witnesses, I am envisioning — perhaps like Jean Casarez — someone beaten bloody. As I hear the cross-examination, I am envisioning someone who suffered some bruises in a fight, but who may have only suffered one significant injury — perhaps in a fall on the side of her neck and head. How can anyone know unless we can see the photos?
It is, of course, important that the jurors have seen the photos. They will make a decision based on all of the information that they have, which will have been MUCH more than the information available to us in the public. But suppose they come back with a verdict of first-degree murder, and in post-trial interviews they say, “We were appalled at the injuries that the photos showed.” There will be some members of the public who will have focused on the defense characterization of the injuries, and who will not understand the verdict. Likewise, if the jury comes back with the verdict of manslaughter, based on the theory that Yeardley Love suffered her fatal injuries in one fall, as Dr. Gormley admitted could be possible, there will be some members of the public who will only have heard the impassioned descriptions of Dave Chapman and who will not understand how the jury could come back with a verdict like that.
I agree with Judge Hogshire’s decision to not open the courtroom to live television, or even to video coverage of the trial for later rebroadcast, but I wish that he had granted the request for a second video monitor to be set up so that members of the public and the media could have seen the exhibits. I fear that the public will not understand the jury’s verdict, whatever it may be.