CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia (Reuters) - Prosecutors in the trial of a former University of Virginia lacrosse player accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend said on Wednesday her death was the drunken culmination of a deteriorating relationship.
A defense attorney countered it was a tragic accident.
Opening arguments on Wednesday fueled a media frenzy in the case, which has captured national attention over the good looks of the victim and suspect and their status as seniors on the university's nationally ranked men's and women's lacrosse teams.
More than 200 media representatives have credentials for the trial, and television vans lined the streets around the courthouse square in Charlottesville, a quiet college town in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Police say Huguely, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, broke down Love's bedroom door, battered her against a wall and left her bleeding.
In his opening statement, prosecutor Warner Chapman said Huguely had been drinking heavily all day before he went to Love's apartment just before midnight on May 2, 2010, a Sunday.
The pair had an on-again, off-again relationship for two years in which prosecutors allege Huguely choked Love a few months before her death and Love struck Huguely with her purse the week before she died.
The relationship "deteriorated all the way until killing her on Sunday night," Chapman told the seven-man, seven-woman jury, which includes two alternates.
He said Love's injuries included damage to her brain stem at the back of the head and to her carotid artery, plus bruising to the right side of her head.
Love, who also had been drinking that evening, was found by her roommate and an acquaintance face down on her bed. Emergency personnel failed to revive her.
Love, of Cockeysville, Maryland, died of blunt force trauma to the head, Chapman said.
Huguely took Love's computer with emails about their relationship from her bedside and tossed it in a dumpster, but police were able to reconstruct messages from the machine's hard drive, Chapman said.
Defense attorney Francis Lawrence called Love's death "a shattering tragedy for the Love family. It's excruciating and nothing we can do or say can lessen that grief."
He said Huguely had visited Love in an attempt to patch up their relationship. She had either fallen or been pushed onto her bed and Huguely said when he left she only had a bloody nose, Lawrence said.
Love was found in bed in the normal place where she slept, on its left side, and she likely suffocated by "positional asphyxia," not a brain injury, Lawrence told jurors.
He added Love had responded to Huguely's email by writing: "You should have killed me. You're so f****d up."
Lawrence called Huguely's behavior "immature compulsiveness," adding, "He's not complicated. He's not complex. He's a lacrosse player."
Besides the murder accusation, Huguely is charged with robbery, burglary in the nighttime, breaking and entering, grand larceny and murder in the commission of robbery.