February 23, 2012
It's being hailed as a classic compromise. George Huguely was sentenced to 26 years for murder Wednesday night, but even though the trial is over, some say it is just beginning.
The legal battle could begin now. Huguely's defense team is expected to ask the court to throw out this verdict. Judge Edward Hogshire is, of course, expected to deny that motion, but this could be a lengthy process in appeals court.
The sentence of 26 years is only a recommendation from the jury. Legal experts say that recommended sentence, reflects compromise among the 12 jurors.
"There were a number that wanted more, some wanted the maximum 40 years on the murder charge," said defense attorney Scott Goodman.
Still, Goodman says an appeal would be tough to achieve. The defense will have 30 days after sentencing becomes final to apply for an appeal.
"There may have been things in the case that one side or the other might not have liked, but the law is you're entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect trial," he said. "There's rarely such thing as a perfect trial."
Huguely's defense attorney Fran Lawrence hinted to the possibility of an appeal after the verdict came down Wednesday night, saying "We look forward to some corrections in what happened here tonight."
But, as Goodman explains, he cannot appeal the verdict itself. "If a jury finds that it's murder instead of manslaughter, a court of appeals is not going to disturb that because the jurors are the triers of the facts."
Even despite defense attorney Rhonda Quagliana's illness that set the trial back a day and a half, and the three-day break between closing arguments and the jury deliberation, Goodman says the defense team never raised issue to any of the trial's nuances.
"You can't just let something go, then once things don't turn out for you, say, 'Oh, I want to appeal now. We should have done something different,'" he said. "That is not grounds for appeal."
The entire appeals process could take a few months to as many as two years.
Judge Hogshire has the ability to reduce the recommended sentence, however he cannot make the sentence any longer. A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for April 16 at 9:30 a.m.