Sunday, May 9, 2010

Elite Program, Awful Crime

May 3, 2010, 06:55 PM ET

By Libby Sander, THE CHRONICLE of Higher Education

The University of Virginia is reeling today from the news that a member of its top-ranked men's lacrosse team has been accused of murdering a player on the women's lacrosse team.

George Huguely, a senior, was arrested this morning and has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Yeardley Love, also a senior, authorities in Charlottesville said earlier today. Mr. Huguely is in custody.

Few details have emerged at this early stage, but here's what we do know: Police were called to Ms. Love's apartment around 2 a.m. for a possible alcohol overdose, and found Ms. Love, who was pronounced dead at the scene and had "suffered visible physical trauma," according to a police statement. Mr. Huguely was arrested a short time later.

The university's president, John T. Casteen III, said the death "moves us to deep anguish." In what is clearly a carefully crafted statement, he went on to say: "That she appears now to have been murdered by another student compounds this sense of loss."

Appears. What a difference one word makes. Earlier in the day, one of Mr. Casteen's colleagues, Leonard W. Sandridge, the university's chief operating officer, was markedly less guarded in his choice of words. "The shock and disappointment and concern is magnified by the fact that she was murdered by one of our own," he told the Roanoke Times.

It's a strong statement given that university officials usually walk on eggshells to avoid doing what we in the news business call "convicting someone in print." Maybe it was a misquote. Or maybe it was a candid comment from a man who was simply stunned—and had yet to be coached by lawyers on how (or how not) to talk to the press.

For the next few days, Virginia will be known as the site of a murder involving two photogenic athletes from a top lacrosse program. And officials will learn, quickly, how to grapple with the unwelcome scrutiny that only a shocking crime can bring.

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