Jury returns guilty verdict in second Earnest trial - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Jury returns guilty verdict in second Earnest trial

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By Carrie J. Sidener

AMHERST — Jurors returned guilty verdicts Friday night in the second murder trial of former high school administrator Wesley Earnest in the shooting death of his estranged wife.

The jury also recommended that Earnest serve a life sentence in prison on the first-degree murder charge and another three years for the use of a firearm in the commission of a murder.

Just after the pronouncement of the sentence, Earnest visibly paled and turned around to whisper something to his mother.

Marcy Shepherd, a friend and coworker of Jocelyn Earnest, ran from the courtroom, threw her arms around Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz and sobbed into his shoulder.

Jocelyn Earnest’s sister Laura Rogers made a statement on her family’s behalf.

“We are pleased with the verdict,” Rogers said. “In a situation like this, no one wins, but we are happy to have justice for Jocelyn.”

Wesley Earnest’s mother, Patricia Wimmer, did not offer any statement after the proceedings, quickly and quietly leaving the courthouse.

She did testify on her son’s behalf during the sentencing phase, saying, “I will never believe he hurt her.”

The jury deliberated for about four and a half hours before returning its verdict about 7 p.m., and an additional hour before the sentencing. This time, the case took one less day to present and the jury took about 30 minutes less than the initial jury in April did to convict Earnest for the murder of his wife.

A judge set aside Earnest’s original guilty verdict after jurors said they had seen evidence that had been barred in the first trial.

In both cases, prosecutors claimed Wesley Earnest, 40, was fed up with his contentious divorce that had been dragging on since 2005. They claim he was beset with financial difficulties after the loss of his wife’s six-figure income and with payments on a Smith Mountain Lake house appraised at more than $1 million, so he ambushed her in her home.

Krantz said there is nothing to rejoice about in this case except for getting justice for a victim no longer able to speak for herself.

“We have lived with this case for two years and 11 months,” Krantz said. “It was a brutal killing and a torturous trial, not once but twice. … My heart goes out to Wesley Earnest’s family. It is painful for them.”

At the time of her death on Dec. 19, 2007, Jocelyn Earnest worked as a project manager at Genworth Financial and lived alone at her house at 1482 Pine Bluff Drive in Forest. Shepherd discovered her body the next morning. She was lying on her back, fully clothed with her shoes and coat still on, and a .357 Magnum revolver lying at her side.

Prosecutors Krantz and Wes Nance claimed her husband, a former Jefferson Forest High School math teacher and Heritage High School assistant principal, drove from Chesapeake, where he was then working, and killed his wife, staging her death to look like a suicide.

Wesley Earnest’s attorneys, Joseph and Blair Sanzone, contended that he remained in Chesapeake that day and would have been unable to make the drive in the time necessary to commit the murder.

On Thursday, Joseph Sanzone presented new testimony from a Chesapeake Taco Bell employee who testified that he remembered Wesley Earnest going through the drive-through that night about 6 p.m., though his recollection of the date was uncertain.

Investigators believe Jocelyn Earnest was killed after about 7:35 p.m. at her home in Forest, more than three hours away from Chesapeake.

“He couldn’t have done it,” Sanzone said during closing arguments. “He wasn’t there.”

That new evidence, presented Thursday, was not enough to acquit Earnest.

Sanzone said after the verdict that until there is some guidance from the appellate courts about fingerprint evidence, “we will always have the same result.”

Partial prints of Wesley Earnest were found on a purported suicide note discovered near Jocelyn Earnest’s body. But Sanzone had argued that the prints could have been left behind from much earlier, and tried unsuccessfully to qualify a law professor to testify that the fingerprint evidence was flawed.

“I’ve tried this case a thousand times but without the evidence in my possession, the jury doesn’t believe a defense lawyer who makes claims about a scientific process without evidence,” Sanzone said. “The evidence is here; it wasn’t heard.”

Earnest returned to the stand Friday morning briefly before the trial drew to a close. Nance brought up a piece of evidence not presented in Earnest’s original trial — a timeline created by Jocelyn Earnest at the direction of her counselor.

The timeline contained entries in Jocelyn Earnest’s handwriting and in another’s — Wesley Earnest, according to forensic document analyst Gordon Menzies.

Her counseler, Susan Roehrich, testified Earnest came to her in August 2007 complaining that her estranged husband had made entries on her timeline pretending to be her. She described her client as scared and angry.

Those entries included:

- “1996: Kept telling Wes to sleep with someone else and come home to me;”

- “1997: Kept telling Wes ‘I don’t want to be with you (sexually);’”

- “2005: Wes Kept trying to talk to me but I just shut him out;” and

- “2006: Wes wants another opportunity to make a great marriage, thinks its highly unlikely. Jocelyn’s family has too much influence on her.”

Earnest was asked on cross-examination how he entered the house to make changes to the timeline and he testified there was a window that never had locks installed when the sash was replaced.

Nance, the deputy commonwealth’s attorney, said during closing arguments that Wesley Earnest planned to kill his estranged wife as a means of taking care of a problem.

“This wasn’t a suicide,” Nance said. “It was a cold, deliberate, planned murder. Murder is a problem-solving act. Who had a problem with Jocelyn Earnest?”

Nance said Earnest essentially confessed to the crime through notes and reminders he left for himself, and through his “scripted” testimony on the stand.

“The people that loved Jocelyn will tell you she was happy and didn’t have a gun,” Nance said. “What did he tell you? She was suicidal and she had a gun.”

Wesley Earnest will be formally sentenced by Judge James Updike at a hearing in Bedford County Circuit Court on Jan. 25.

Staff reporter Nolan Connelly contributed to this report.

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