TODAY   |  May 05, 2010

Cops: Lacrosse player admits deadly beating

Police say University of Virginia student athlete George Huguely admitted to knocking coed Yeardley Love’s head into a wall repeatedly before her death. NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports and Love’s student adviser, Meg Heubeck, remembers her.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: But we want to begin this half-hour with a stunning admission by the men's lacrosse player at the University of Virginia accused of murdering Yeardley Love , a star on the school 's women 's team. NBC 's Jeff Rossen is on the Charlottesville , Virginia , campus with the latest. Jeff , good morning to you.

JEFF ROSSEN reporting: Hey, Matt , good morning to you. Such an awful story . I've been reading through these court papers all night , all morning. It's disturbing, disturbing details, but this mystery now is really beginning to unravel. Believe it or not , this may all come down to a bad breakup between a boyfriend and girlfriend in college, these two lacrosse players . A young woman is dead and that boy now behind bars all because of possible relationship problems. And now this bombshell from the suspect himself that the night she died, the night Yeardley Love died, he admits he knocked her head into a wall over and over again. It was inside this campus bar at a post-exam party where 22-year-old Yeardley Love would spend her final hours Sunday. Police say when this stunning star lacrosse player went home her life would end. According to new court papers her on again-lately off again, boyfriend, George Huguely , a player on the men's lacrosse team, was about to pay a visit, admitting to police he "kicked his right foot through the door that leads to Love 's bedroom." Huguely went on confessing that night he was "involved in an altercation with Yeardley Love . He shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall." Officers found her face down on her pillow in a pool of blood , bruises on her face, her right eye swollen shut, the victim, police say, of " blunt force trauma ." Her roommate and another friend discovered her body. You believe this is first-degree murder?

Chief TIMOTHY LONGO (Charlottesville, Virginia Police Department): Absolutely.

ROSSEN: That he intended and planned to go and kill her?

Chief LONGO: That's our belief.

ROSSEN: Friends say Love and Huguely had a turbulent romantic relationship that recently got physical. In fact, some say just weeks ago, when they broke up, he tried to attack her in public. Now police sources tell NBC News they're looking into possible death threats he sent her over text message .

Ms. MEG HEUBECK (Yeardley Love's Co-Worker, University of Virginia): I think it's -- there's a lot of stigma on women to kind of deal with that, and I would hope that there would be something we could do to prevent those kind of things.

ROSSEN: Before it gets to this?

Ms. HEUBECK: Before it gets to this because we don't want to -- we definitely don't want to be here again.

ROSSEN: Huguely has been arrested for first-degree murder. His school lacrosse picture replaced by a jail mugshot. Now, even with his stunning admission of violence, his lawyer is building a defense.

Mr. FRAN LAWRENCE (George Huguely's Attorney): We are confident that Ms. Love 's death was not intended but an accident with a tragic outcome. In the meantime, George is withdrawing from the University of Virginia and remains in the custody of the authorities.

ROSSEN: Tuesday, his parents came to Charlottesville to support their son, but wouldn't comment. College friends say there were warning signs . At six foot one and 205 pounds, George Huguely , they claim, was aggressive when he drank and liked getting his way. In 2008 , he was arrested for public swearing and intoxication and resisting arrest , allegedly screaming racial and sexual slurs at the officer. But his old friends back home in this wealthy DC suburb paint a different picture entirely.

Mr. MICHAEL PRESTON (George Huguely's Friend): I'm absolutely shocked. There -- the George Huguely I know growing up, the George Huguely that played in my backyard with me every single day was not capable of doing something like this.

ROSSEN: The crime has rocked this campus to its core. The University of Virginia with its beautiful views and Southern charm has now lost a beautiful young woman in a murder as ugly as it gets.

Unidentified Woman: It's really sad because she's in the prime of her life when it ended, and you know, her family and friends are going to have to deal with that.

ROSSEN: There were a lot of questions here on campus. Would the lacrosse season go on after all, Matt ? The men's team is ranked number one in the country ; the women 's team ranked number four in the country . The school , the university , left this up to Yeardley 's parents, that it's your final decision, whatever you want . They just decided last night the kids should play on, Matt.

LAUER: All right, Jeff Rossen , in Charlottesville for us this morning. Jeff , thank you very much . Meg Heubeck works for the University of Virginia and worked closely with Yeardley Love as an adviser during her four years on campus. Meg, good morning to you. Thank you for joining us, and our sincere condolences.

Ms. HEUBECK: Thank you very much , Matt. Unfortunately have to be with you here today, but thanks for having me.

LAUER: Yeah, I know you wanted to talk this morning because you wanted to take this beyond the headline of this tragic murder, and you wanted us to know a little bit about Yeardley . Other than the fact that she was a great athlete, we understand that, tell me a little bit about her.

Ms. HEUBECK: Well, I'm not going to go into great detail, but I will tell you that she is absolutely the epitome of the University of Virginia student. Thomas Jefferson would be proud to have such a young woman at his university studying. She just was lovely in every single way.

LAUER: How are her friends taking this? I mean, obviously she made an impact on that campus.

Ms. HEUBECK: Right.

LAUER: Have you had a chance to speak to some of her friends ?

Ms. HEUBECK: Yes. They are obviously grieving. They are just devastated by the loss of a very cherished member of this community. And we're trying to help -- the university has been great at trying to help them through this. Everyone here in the Charlottesville community and at the university is really wrapping around the students at this point to try to support them through the end of the semester.

LAUER: This was a young lady who was about to go off and I assume do big things . She was going to graduate in just a couple of...


LAUER: ...a couple of weeks. Do you know what were her plans, what were her dreams?

Ms. HEUBECK: Well, she will graduate, according to the university . I have no idea what her plans or dreams were, but we know they were to go beyond this university and live the mission of the university , which is to enrich the -- our nation and the world.

LAUER: Well, as I said, Meg , I'm sorry. I know the entire university , clearly her family , grieving, and you as well. And I appreciate you spending just a couple of minutes with me this morning.

Ms. HEUBECK: Thank you very much . And of course our thoughts and our prayers are with the family in this very, very difficult time. Thank you.

LAUER: Ours are as well. Meg, thank you. Dan Abrams is NBC 's chief legal analyst. Dan, good morning to you.

Mr. DAN ABRAMS (NBC News Chief Legal Analyst): Good morning, Matt.

LAUER: If what we're hearing from police is correct...

Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah.

LAUER: ...that this young man has already come forward saying he kicked the door in and then hit her head against a wall several times, how do his lawyers now say this is an accident ?

Mr. ABRAMS: Well, you already see that his lawyers are crafting this defense. They -- it sounds like -- are going to argue that there was some sort of altercation there, a fight between them. Based on what his client has already said, that's tough. And this is why -- this is what drives lawyers crazy, right, is that the client has made this statement which is now tying him. And so the lawyer now has to move forward with that statement on the books. And it sounds like the lawyer's not challenging the statement itself; he's saying, OK, yes, my client effectively made this statement, but we think that there are other circumstances that have to become into play.

LAUER: So are they going for homicide here as opposed to murder?

Mr. ABRAMS: Well, no, I think that they might be looking for possibly a not guilty entirely. Meaning, if two people get into a fight, one person ends up getting hurt, you can argue that was an accident , and as a result there was no crime committed.

LAUER: But if you kick a door down to get access to a person, haven't you already crossed, you know, no pun intended...

Mr. ABRAMS: Yeah.

LAUER: ...the -- a certain threshold?

Mr. ABRAMS: It's a tough defense...

LAUER: Right.

Mr. ABRAMS: ...under these particular circumstances. It sounds like that's what they are pursuing, but you're absolutely right. And remember, it sounds -- the police are in fact saying it was premeditated. So they're not just saying this was a crime of passion . They're saying that he thought about this, he had made threats to her in the past and then went over there to execute effectively on those threats.

LAUER: If they can prove some of those threats in the past -- if, for example, some of those e-mails or texts that we've heard reported prove to be true, how does that impact him?

Mr. ABRAMS: It's tough. I mean, it makes it a very, very tough situation for him. I mean you've got that, you've got his own words, which I think are going to be -- have a big impact here. You've got the physical evidence and you've got his past experiences with violence. Now, the defense team may say shouldn't be relevant; prosecutors will argue that's part of a pattern of behavior on his part and is very relevant, according to prosecutors.

LAUER: Dan Abrams , as always, Dan , thanks very much.