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A Nelson County jury will decide the fate of Wesley Brian Earnest in November.
On Tuesday, Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike granted a motion by Earnest’s attorney, Joseph Sanzone, to move his new trial out of Bedford County because of the extensive media coverage that surrounded the first trial earlier this year. Earnest, initially convicted in April of murdering his wife in December 2007 at her Forest home, had a mistrial declared in the case after it was revealed that jurors had been given journals written by the victim, Jocelyn Earnest, that had not been entered into evidence.
The case will actually be held in Amherst County Circuit Court, but the jury will be made up of residents of Nelson County. Earnest’s new trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 8 at 9 a.m.
Sanzone’s case for moving the trial out of Bedford County was based on the publicity the first trial received. He presented a packet to the court on that coverage from media outlets, which he said extended from Tidewater to Roanoke.
Bedford County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance had asked that the change of venue request be taken under advisement, in hopes that when the trial began a jury could be gathered from residents of Bedford County. But Judge Updike, while stating that is what he generally wants, said that in this instance the media coverage had been extensive enough to allow for the trial to be moved.
Nance said the decision to utilize a Nelson County jury is an attempt to pull a jury from outside the immediate media coverage area. Holding the trial in Amherst County is an attempt to find a location where a courtroom is available at a location that will cut down on the inconvenience of moving the trial on all of the parties involved.
“We accept it and we’re looking forward to being able to try the case once again in November,” Nance said of the judge’s decision Tuesday. Judge Updike also said he did not anticipate granting any motions to continue the case.
“We want Mr. Earnest to have a fair trial, too,” Nance stated about the change of venue ruling. “This helps to assure that.”
While the trial itself will be held in another county, pre-trial motions will be heard in Bedford County. Sanzone has stated previously that he intends to file a motion challenging the fingerprint evidence used in the case. That evidence played a key role in the prosecution’s case against Earnest in the first trial.
Earnest is being held in jail without bond pending his new trial. His family and defense counsel has maintained his innocence throughout the case.
Prosecution witnesses in the first case testified that the only fingerprints found on an alleged suicide note by Jocelyn Earnest’s body belonged to Wesley Earnest. The prosecution argued that Wesley Earnest had traveled from his home in Chesapeake on Dec. 19, 2007, shot his wife and planted the note to make it appear to be a suicide.
Jocelyn Earnest was found dead in her home by a friend on Dec. 20, 2007. Wesley Earnest was arrested and charged with first degree murder in the case in Feb. 2008. The original trial was held more than two years after his arrest and the new trial is set to begin just short of three years prior to Jocelyn Earnest’s death. The prosecution’s case was based on circumstantial evidence, including the fingerprint evidence as well as Wesley Earnest’s actions following his wife’s death. The couple were in the midst of a contentious divorce at that time.
The first trial took two weeks to complete.