By Ian Simpson and Brandon Shulleeta
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va (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.
George Huguely V, 24, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and five other charges in the May 2010 death of Yeardley Love, 22.
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 say Huguely choked Love a few months before her death, and Love struck Huguely with her purse the week before she died.
While Love was in Chicago for a game against Northwestern University a few days before she died, Huguely sent her an e-mail that said: "I should have killed you," Chapman said.
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.
FOUND FACE DOWN IN BED
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.
The roommate, Caitlin Whiteley, said she found Love bloody, with a "messed up" eye, ragged hair and abrasions on her face. She also said she noticed a hole in Love's bedroom door.
Whiteley said Huguely had been upset by Love telling people he had become violent.
"I guess he had heard her tell other people that he had choked her out," Whiteley said. "And he was mad that she was telling people that."
Huguely took Love's computer with e-mails 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 had only a bloody nose, Lawrence said.
Lawrence told jurors that 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.
He added that Love had responded to Huguely's e-mail 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.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Johnston)