(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) — A brain expert testifying for the defense in George Huguely’s murder trial claimed that Yeardley Love died by suffocating in her pillow after a day of heavy drinking, contradicting the prosecution’s claim that Love died from a powerful blow to her head.
Neuropathologist Dr. Jan Leestma told the court on Wednesday that Love’s cause of death was deprivation of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Love was found bloody and face-down in a pillow, which would make breathing very difficult, Leestma said.
The doctor testified that the combination of Love’s position and her pillow being wet from blood could have produced the lack of oxygen that led to suffocating.
This testimony is in stark contrast to the prosecution’s claim that Huguely beat Love severely and then left her to die. Experts for the prosecution said that Love died from blunt force trauma to the head.
Leestma followed the defense’s first witness, toxicologist Alphonse Polkis, who focused on Love’s blood alcohol level the night she died.
“She would’ve been impaired,” Polkis said, referring to her judgment, coordination and emotional control with her blood alcohol level between 0.16 and 0.18.
Huguely’s defense attorneys opened their case on Wednesday with a heated exchange that briefly halted the trial.
After some shouting in the courtroom, jurors were asked to step out and the judge soon followed, leaving the attorneys inside. The audio to the media’s viewing room was temporarily cut off, leaving questions as to what caused the unusual halt in proceedings.
Before the outburst, the defense asked that the first-degree murder charge and other lesser charges, be dismissed. The judge denied the motions.
“There is ample evidence to support a jury finding in all of the charges in this case,” the judge said.
Earlier in the day, the prosecution rested its case following testimony from a number of Huguely’s friends and University of Virginia lacrosse teammates.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Aria Hangyu Chen, Special to CNN
Jeremy Diamond, CNN
Christopher Dawson, CNN
Frank Pallotta, CNN