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The second murder trial against Wesley Brian Earnest began Monday.
First up in the retrial of Earnest—who was granted a mistrial this summer after being found guilty of murdering his wife at a two-week trial in April—will be the presentation of any pre-trial motions as well as seating the jury that will hear the case.
A Nelson County jury will decide the fate of Earnest, with the trial itself being held in Amherst County Circuit Court.
In September 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.
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.
Prosecutors 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 said that in this instance the media coverage had been extensive enough to allow for the trial to be moved.
The decision to utilize a Nelson County jury was 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 place 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.
Earnest has been 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.
Earnest’s defense focused on questioning the veracity of the fingerprint evidence as well as bringing into question a number of other possible suspects who might have committed the crime.
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 begins just a month short of three years after 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.