Murder or suicide: How did Jocelyn Earnest die?
Jocelyn and Wesley Earnest
The wife of a respected high school administrator is found dead with a suicide note nearby. But what really happened? Tracy Smith looks for answers in the death of Jocelyn Earnest.
Produced by Marcelena Spencer[This story was first broadcast on Dec. 3, 2011. It was updated on June 2]
(CBS) BEDFORD COUNTY, Va. -- In March 2010, in a scenic southern community nestled near the Blue Ridge Mountains, 37-year-old high school assistant principal Wesley Earnest is on trial for his life.
"How are you feeling heading into this trial?" CBS News correspondent Tracy Smith asked Earnest in his first and only on-camera interview.
"....everything from nervous to anger, frustration and scared about things, but excited," he replied. "...I'm looking forward to getting my life back in some way."
On Dec. 19, 2007, six days before Christmas, Jocelyn Earnest's close friend, Marcy Shepherd, who had been texting with her all day, became concerned when Jocelyn never responded to messages she sent that evening.
The next morning, Shepherd drove over to Jocelyn's house. She let herself inside with Jocelyn's spare key, discovered her body, and called police.
When investigators Mike Mayhew and Gary Babb stepped inside Jocelyn's home, they found a shiny revolver beside her, a bullet wound to her head and a note by the front door.
"...it was addressed 'To Mom,'" Investigator Gary Babb said, reading the note: "I'm sorry for what I've done. Please forgive me. Wes has put us in...such a financial bind -- can't recover. My new love will not leave the family. Love, Jocelyn.'"
Financial problems and a new love? The note seemed to raise even more questions than answers.
"Did it seem like a suicide note?" Smith asked.
"Not to me," Babb said. "I've worked a lot of suicides through the years and most people -- it's a little more personal."
The note contained 83 typed words and two fingerprints that, authorities say, matched Jocelyn's estranged husband, Wesley Earnest.
"How did they get there? Well there's only one way they got there. He touched that note," said Investigator Mike Mayhew.
But Wesley Earnest had been living and working in another city more than three hours away.
"You know, my first thought was 'impossible.' ...but you think about it. I lived in that house for 10 years. ...I guess it could be possible," he told Smith.
"And you're confident it's not your fingerprint?"
"I'm very confident it's not mine," said Earnest.
Earnest hired a well known and rather unusual defense team from Lynchburg, Va. Joey Sanzone and his daughter, Blair, are firmly convinced this case is not what it seems.
"Wesley was a suspect mainly because he was the estranged husband. And that's always a difficult position for anybody," said Joey Sanzone.
Sanzone says forensic tests determined Earnest's fingerprints were not on the gun and his DNA was nowhere to be found at the scene.
Investigators believe Jocelyn was shot sometime between 7:30 and 9 p.m. the night before and her body had been moved.
"And there's no way she could have moved herself?" Smith asked Mayhew.
"No, no," he replied. "There's no question this body had been moved by someone and a pretty strong someone...Whoever shot this lady moved her at that time."
"We found a couple of items in the bedroom...we found a condom package lying by the bed...we found a condom unwrapped in the trash can," Babb explained. "It's almost as if someone had attempted to make it like a sexual assault or some kind of love affair gone wrong...and on the other end of the house it was made to appear like a suicide."
The heat inside her home was overwhelming. The thermostat had been jacked up to 90°F. Jocelyn's home appeared untidy, but there were no signs of forced entry. Her faithful black Labrador, Rufus, was discovered locked in his crate in her bedroom without food or water.
"She would never, ever lock her dog and turn the heat up, shoot herself, knowing her dog could be in there and die in that cage," said Mayhew.
"We're here because we believe in Wesley," said defense attorney Joey Sanzone.
Prosecutors Wes Nance and Randy Krantz believe the murder scene was set up to deflect attention away from the killer.
"And when you have a staged crime scene, that immediately makes it a whodunit...and by definition a staged crime scene indicates premeditation," Randy Krantz explained. "And so we have to follow the evidence back to the source."
"So I have to ask you. Did you kill your wife?" Smith asked Earnest.
"No," he replied.
"Hopefully we'll be able to find somethin' out."
It turns out the words on that mysterious note would reveal even more clues about a husband, a wife, and their very troubled life.
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