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Plea Deal in U.Va. Beating Death?

Seven months ago, Yeardley Love, a senior lacrosse player for the University of Virginia, was found beaten to death.

The suspect, her ex-boyfriend, has been locked up ever since. But now, he may not go to trial in her death.

On "The Early Show," CBS News correspondent Whit Johnson reported, since George Huguely was arrested, people involved in the case have said almost nothing. But now there's talk of a plea deal.

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The news of Love's death, just weeks before his graduation last May, rocked the quiet University of Virginia campus to its core.

Leonard Sandridge, executive vice president of the University of Virginia, told CBS News, "The entire university community is shocked and saddened with the news of Miss Love's death by the hand of a murderer."

Marye Kellermann, Love's lacrosse teammate, said of Love, "She was a wonderful person. Always vibrant. Always happy all the time. Just a really great friend."

The accused is Love's ex-boyfriend and fellow lacrosse player George Huguely. After his arrest, he admitted to drunkenly slamming Love's head against the wall during a fight in the early morning hours of May 3, but insists the 22-year-old senior was alive when he left the apartment.

Francis Lawrence, Huguely's defense attorney, said last May, "We are confident that Ms. Love's death was not intended, but an accident with a tragic outcome."

Prosecutors charged Huguely with first-degree murder. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

But now, according to a report in the Washington Examiner, plea deal negotiations have begun that would prevent the case from ever going to trial.

CBS News Legal Analyst Lisa Bloom explained, "Plea deals result in 95 percent of criminal cases, including murder cases, and that's because both sides want the finality of a deal it ends up resolving the case, and there are no appeals."

Following his arrest, new details emerged about Huguely's troubled past, including charges for a 2008 altercation with police, public intoxication and allegations that he'd previously been violent with Love.

As the school year came to a close last spring, students and faculty came together to mourn Love's passing and celebrate a promising life cut short.

John T. Casteen III, former president of the University of Virginia, said at the time, "My hope for Yeardley and for you is that her dying inspires an anger, a sense of outrage that no one need ever fear for safety."

Johnson added if the case does move forward, Huguely's is scheduled to appear in court on January 21.

But is a plea deal uncommon in a case like this?

CBS News Legal Analyst Jack Ford said on "The Early Show" he's not surprised by word of negotiations.

"You know there's certain factors that sort of lend themselves to a case getting worked out," he said. "You've got to remember, an overwhelming number of cases do end up getting worked out. Only a small percentage go to trial. You look at this case, it's not one where the defendant is saying, 'It wasn't me. I wasn't there. I had nothing to do. I'm absolutely innocent.' Reportedly, he has said to the police, 'Yes, here's what happened, I grabbed her, I shook her, I banged her head against the wall.' Now he hasn't admitted to everything that the prosecutor says happened there."

Ford continued, "So you take away the notion of the defendant saying, 'I'm clearly innocent,' and it sort of leads you to some conversations here."

"Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith asked, "Now, what would compel the prosecution to go ahead and accept a deal, if the defense is saying, 'You know what, all those things we agree with, all the things you just said, what would you tell the prosecution, well we'll go along with that'?"

Ford said, "A couple of things come into play here. If you're a prosecutor, and I go back to my days as a prosecutor handling murder cases. Two things: How strong is your case? And what are your victims and family members want out of this? Here, the prosecutor is saying we're pretty strong. But nothing is a slam dunk."

Ford added, "Because the defense is saying, 'I didn't mean to kill her.' The prosecutor is saying, You slammed her head so hard you meant to certainly hurt her seriously.' But I'm saying that's not a slam dunk murder one conviction. And the other thing is you have to sit down and say to the victim's family, 'What do you want here?' They don't control it completely but they're going to have a major input. And if they say to you, 'We can't handle a trial emotionally, we can't go through this.' Then, as a prosecutor, you start sort of moving some numbers around."

Smith said, "I guess that becomes a very important question. Because that, is it really a conversation between the prosecutors and the victim's family to say, 'What are your interests here?'"

Ford said, "Sure. Again, (the family doesn't) control it 100 percent. The victim's family doesn't come in and say to the prosecutor, 'Here's what you're going to do.' But if a prosecutor is in a situation where they're saying, 'Look, we could probably live with a murder two conviction here. And maybe, 30 years in prison, as opposed to murder one which would carry 20 years to life in prison. Murder two can be as little, in Virginia, as little as five years to 40 years. So the prosecutor's saying, 'We could probably deal with murder two, and it probably would work well with the evidence we have.' Murder two is basically you meant to seriously harm somebody. Maybe you didn't mean to kill them. Then I sit down with the victim's family and say, 'Are you guys okay with this? Could you live with 30 years?' for instance. And then it's up to them to see whether they'd be amenable to all that."

Smith said, "And if you're the defense attorney and you can make that deal, you're sitting there saying, you know what, you've actually might have something like a life, if, for instance, you walk out of prison 30 years from now -- even if it's 30 years from now. Chances are somebody serving that long is pretty slim."

Ford said, "If I'm the defense attorney, I have to say to my client, 'If we roll the dice and go to trial here and lose, and you get nicked on a murder one conviction, you're talking about life. Now it might not be life without possibility of parole, but it means a big chunk of your life. And maybe you're never going to get out. But if we take a deal, and I don't know what's being offered out there, but let's say if they say, if we take a deal for murder two and maybe we can limit it to 25, 30 years and then you become eligible for parole. You're 20-something right now. You could have a life after.'"

Smith pointed out with all the evidence available in a case like this one, you're not sure what happens if the case goes before a jury.

Ford agreed, saying, "First thing you learn, when I used to teach in law school, no one knows what's going to happen when you hand a case off to 12 other people."

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