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Judge denies request to revoke Earnest’s bond

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He does have to surrender his concealed weapons permit

By Tom Wilmoth

Bedford County Circuit Court Judge James Updike denied a motion to revoke the bond of Wesley Brian Earnest, charged with first degree murder in the death of his estranged wife in December 2007.

    In making the motion, Bedford County Chief Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance argued that Earnest had not been living for the past five months at the residence he listed as his residence in Bedford County at 1357 Clearwater Dr. in Moneta. On March 19 fire destroyed the majority of that house. But Updike denied the motion, stating that no evidence had been presented to show Earnest had violated the terms of his bond.

    The only change in Earnest’s bond, as a result of Tuesday’s hearing, was that Updike ordered him to surrender his concealed weapons permit and to give a new address to the court as his permanent residence while his home in Moneta is being repaired. That new address is at the home of a long-time girlfriend, Shameka Wright, on Night Hawk Drive in Campbell County. Wright was mentioned throughout court documents filed in the divorce proceedings between Wesley Earnest and his wife, Jocelyn Denise Earnest, who prosecutors claim he murdered on Dec. 19, 2007. Earnest was charged with first-degree murder in the connection with the death of his wife at the couple’s home in Forest. At the time of his wife’s death, Earnest had been living at the couple’s lakefront home. The Earnests were in the midst of divorce proceedings when Jocelyn Earnest was found dead.

    Last month’s fire, which remains under investigation, apparently  prompted a number of search warrants of Earnest’s vehicle and the residence at Night Hawk Drive in connection with the case. Investigator Ricky Baldwin of the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office testified at Tuesday’s hearing that on March 20 he searched a Silverado Dodge Truck that belonged to Wright. That search warrant turned up numerous personal belongings of Earnest, Baldwin testified, including a handwritten journal he was keeping. In that journal, Baldwin testified that, at best, Earnest wrote that he had spent only 10 days at the Moneta residence. Baldwin testified that a receipt found in the truck of a purchase by Earnest showed that he had listed his residence as the home in Campbell County. He also stated several times in the journal Earnest referred to that residence as his home.

    Baldwin also testified that a handgun had been found in the glove compartment of the truck.

    He stated that a subsequent investigation of a Web site revealed that Earnest had listed his property on Clearwater Drive in Moneta as being up for rent, but that had been removed the day after the fire.

    Earnest’s attorney Joseph Sanzone, however, pointed out during the hearing that his client has taken out a building permit to rebuild the home at Smith Mountain Lake in Moneta. He said Earnest had continued to maintain that property since his arrest and considers it his permanent residence.

    Sanzone further argued that his client had made himself accessible to authorities. After the fire, Sanzone said he reached his client in a short time when he was contacted by authorities about Earnest. In fact, he said his client, who was in Loudon County when contacted, pulled over to the side of the road and had a law enforcement officer up there confirm to Bedford County authorities of his location.

    “It’s not as though he’s been evading (them),” Sanzone stated of his client. “He’s not been causing any trouble.”

    Sergeant Brian Neal also testified during Tuesday’s hearing about a search warrant that had been executed at Wright’s home in Campbell County following the March fire. Neal testified that numerous personal effects belonging to Earnest had been found in the home, along with mail addressed to him at that address. Neal also testified that 10 guns had been found in the home, including a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle.

    Sanzone argued that Earnest had been staying at the home following the fire and plans to continue to do so until his Lake home can be rebuilt. At Tuesday’s hearing, Judge Updike had Earnest’s current residence changed from the Moneta address to instead be listed as the Campbell County home of Wright.

    Nance had hoped that Earnest’s bond would be revoked based on the testimony of the investigators about where Earnest was spending most of his time, but Updike didn’t agree that any violation had occurred.

    “This case has involved a more intense search for evidence than any case I’ve ever been involved with,” Sanzone told Updike during the hearing. He would later state that he is currently attempting to review hundreds of electronic documents that he had requested from a third party. Updike set a review of the case’s status for May 5 at 1:30 p.m.

    Earnest remains out on $200,000 cash bond and, following Tuesday’s hearing, will have to surrender his concealed weapons permit and not possess or live anywhere were firearms are present.

    Jocelyn Earnest filed for divorce from Wesley Earnest in 2006, after 11 years of marriage. The divorce, which had become contentious, was not finalized. Wesley Earnest claimed his wife refused to live with him, and Jocelyn Earnest claimed he was having an affair with Wright.

    Sanzone indicated at his client’s preliminary hearing that he plans to challenge fingerprint evidence that prosecutors claim ties Wesley Earnest to a note found by the body of his wife. Forensic evidence continues to be processed in the case.

    The trial was originally scheduled to be held this past January, but is now set for June.

    Chief Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Wes Nance has said he expects at some point for the defense to present a number of legal challenges prior to trial. Nance said the trial’s delay was anticipated. Nance has indicated Earnest’s attorneys are continuing to conduct their own investigation, including requesting items from third parties. He said that can be a “time-consuming process.”

    At a hearing in Bedford County Circuit Court last May, Earnest was granted bond.

    During that hearing Earnest testified that though he was no longer employed with the Chesapeake School System, he felt he could find employment in this area if granted bond. He added that, if released on bond, he would be living at the  Clearwater Drive home at the Lake, which had served as his primary residence for the four years prior to his arrest.