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A three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals has affirmed the first-degree murder conviction of Wesley Earnest.
Earnest, a former Bedford County teacher, was convicted in 2010 of killing his estranged wife, Jocelyn Earnest, and trying to make it look like a suicide.
Tuesday’s decision by the three-judge panel upholds the life sentence that Earnest received for the crime which occurred at the couple's Forest home.
In the midst of their bitter divorce, Jocelyn Earnest was found shot in the head at the home on Dec. 20, 2007.
The fingerprints of Wesley Earnest, who by then was an assistant high school principal in Chesapeake, were found on a suicide note left at the scene.
In appealing his conviction, Earnest challenged a ruling by Judge James Updike that denied him the opportunity to call an expert witness to question the state’s fingerprint analysis.
The Court of Appeals held Tuesday that Updike was correct in not allowing the jury to hear the expert’s testimony because her knowledge rested on an academic evaluation of various studies -- and as such could not form the basis of a challenge to the state’s findings.
Bedford County Deputy Common-wealth's Attorney Wes Nance said the ruling came certainly with “a great deal of relief and satisfaction.”
All along, Nance said the prosecution team believed it had presented “a very compelling and overwhelming case of Mr. Earnest's guilt.”
Nance also believed Judge Updike's rulings were measured and that he took the appropriate track in the decisions he made.
Though there's “always a concern when a case of that magnitude” is being considered, Nance said he had believed the conviction would be upheld.
Most likely, Nance believes Earnest's next step to appeal the conviction will be before the Virginia Supreme Court. But, Nance said, he believes the decisions “will ultimately be upheld” at every level at which it is challenged.