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Murder or suicide: How did Jocelyn Earnest die?

Secrets of a Marriage 41:58

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.

" 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.

More on the mysterious suicide note

"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.

"Who did?"

"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.

Jocelyn, a 38-year-old financial services manager, had a playful sense of humor on the job and at home with her dad, Bill Branham.

"That always made me feel good to hear her laugh," said Branham.

She was a devoted daughter to mom Joyce and a big sister to Laura.

"You knew when you talked to her you had her attention and I think that's pretty special," said Jocelyn's mother, Joyce Young.

"My parents divorced when I was 2 and my sister was 6," Laura Rogers said. "She was a like a second mother...she'd get me off the school bus and walk me home...make sure I did my homework, cook me some ravioli (laughs)."

Video: Jocelyns' parents share memories of their daughter

On the high school basketball team, Jocelyn was No. 21 -- a star shooting guard, team captain and All-State honorable mention.

"She was a shooter," said her father.

At West Virginia University, Jocelyn was praised as one of the Mountaineer's best 3-point shooters ever.

Then, in her junior year, Jocelyn, a business and economics major, met Wesley Earnest, a mathematics student.

"...."actually just met outside calculus class," Earnest said. "She walked by and I introduced myself."

"And said, 'Hey you wanna go out sometime' or what?" Smith asked.

"'Let's go play some basketball and I know a little somethin' about basketball myself,'" he replied with a laugh.

Asked what kind of couple Jocelyn and Wesley were, Earnest's mother, Patricia Wimmer, described them as "cute."

"Both of them would be laying in the middle of the floor watching the ball game together...whenever you saw one you saw the other," she said.

Jocelyn's sister saw it differently.

".... I remember seein' Jocelyn after she had gotten off the phone with him. She was cryin' on the bed," Rogers told Smith.

"Did Jocelyn tell you why she liked Wes?"

"She never really answered," Rogers replied. "Later on it was kinda the standard excuse, 'I love him' type of thing...I never understood it. ...They were like polar opposites."

In the summer of 1995, they got married.

"I had mixed emotions about the wedding. I didn't think it should happen," Rogers said. "...I didn't think he was right for her."

The newlyweds moved to Bedford County, Va. Jocelyn began working at Genworth Financial in Lynchburg. Earnest was the assistant principal at a high school.

"It was a fantastic relationship as far as great friends. We were great friends," Earnest said.

Asked if there was romance, Earnest replied, "Very little."

"Was that part of the problem?"

"That was the problem," he said. "I'm a little uncomfortable talking about the negative things 'cause she's a wonderful person...and I don't wanna talk negatively about somebody."

"Makes you emotional," noted Smith.

"You care about somebody," said Earnest.

Despite their marriage troubles, they would start a new venture together. They built a luxurious weekend getaway on Smith Mountain Lake. Wesley Earnest had loved the lake since he was a boy.

"What was that house like?" Smith asked.

"Seven-thousand square feet, seven bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths," Earnest said. "Every bedroom had a lake view; sunset view...designed it myself."

Their combined salary was nearly $200,000 a year, but this new second home would be expensive -- a multimillion-dollar project.

"He wouldn't...let her make a lot of the decisions that you would think that a wife would be able to have and it was a control thing," Joyce Young told Smith.

"Did he see it as Wesley's house, not Wesley and Jocelyn's house?"

"This was his baby," Young replied. "Kind of a status symbol...the bigger the better."

The lake home seemed to be on solid ground, but the couple's nine-year marriage was crumbling. Wesley Earnest says Jocelyn had an unconventional proposal.

"She kept tellin' me I needed to go sleep with other women and come home to her," he said.

Laura Rogers said, "Jocelyn told me about that conversation. Wesley had said he wanted it multiple times a day from her and you she jokingly said, 'Well if you need that you better...go find somebody else who can provide it that much.' Kind of a ha ha joke type thing."

It was no joke to Wesley Earnest. He began seeing Shameka Wright, who described Earnest as "handsome, good looking, tall."

Asked what Earnest told her about his wife, Wright told Smith, "He just said that they were friends and he really did not like the situation, but he felt like he didn't have any other choice. ...he told me that he was separated. ...He wanted to be upfront and honest. And I appreciated that."

Upfront and honest? Not exactly. He was still married and living with Jocelyn.

"Did you really think that everybody could get along, that you could have a girlfriend and have a wife -- that everybody would be OK?" Smith asked Earnest.

"(Laughs) you make it sound in a way that I was tryin' to be this...circus act, juggling things. But it wasn't like that," he replied.

"Did you think eventually you two would get married?" Smith asked Shameka Wright.

"That was my dream," she replied.

As soon as Jocelyn learned her husband was cheating, they separated and she filed for divorce. It was a nasty split. According to prosecutor Randy Krantz, to get through it, Jocelyn had been seeing a therapist.

"She had recently seen her counselor within hours of her death, and the counselor's assessment, this lady was not suicidal, in fact, was the opposite, was upbeat," said Krantz.

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone disagrees.

"Jocelyn is a sad person to me. She's someone that had obvious difficulty with her social relationships," he said.

"I'm sure you've looked into what she was like in the days leading up to her death," Smith asked Sanzone.

"Well she was certainly on medication," he replied.

Smith asked Jocelyn's sister, "What about the idea that her mediation was increased?"

"That's understandable. I mean you're getting ready to go into a divorce that's been nasty," Rogers said. "I think that that would be natural to increase your medicine either for depression or anxiety."

"Could that mean she was depressed enough to take her own life?"

"My sister would never, never do that," said Rogers.

Authorities believe Jocelyn's journals -- 17 spiral notebooks -- hold the key to her life... and her death.

After his split with Jocelyn, Wesley Earnest took a job three hours away as an assistant principal at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Va.

"Working with kids, just there's no other more satisfying career that I can think of," he told Tracy Smith.

To teacher Tim McGovern, Earnest was a boss and a friend.

"When Wesley walked down the hallways -- he commanded respect just naturally, because he got along with kids," McGovern said. "He was well liked by a lot of people."

It seems Wesley Earnest was a man of many faces. At trial, teacher Sonya Stevens says Earnest told her he was well off.

Sonya Stevens: He did not have to work for a living.

Prosecutor Wes Nance: Is that something he told you?

Sonya Stevens: He did. He did.

Teacher Molly Sullivan said Earnest told her he wasn't just rich, but single, and even refused to accept her condolences after Jocelyn died.

"And I said, 'Oh my God, I'm so sorry to hear about your wife.' And he said, 'What the (bleep) are you talking about?" How many times to I have to tell you I'm not married,'" Sullivan testified.

"He told people that he was independently wealthy, he was unmarried. Who is that Wesley Earnest?" Smith asked Earnest's mother, Patricia Wimmer.

"That's a Wesley Earnest going through mid-life crisis," she replied, "but he did have a lot of money. He had that lake house. The realtors had valued it at, at that point, around over three -- about close to $3 million."

As Wesley and Jocelyn started divorce proceedings, it was the lake house -- his prized possession -- they fought over. She wanted it sold. He, investigators say, didn't want to let it go.

"He wanted that big lake house. He wanted that millionaire image," Investigator Gary Babb said. "And there was one thing standin' between him and that image and that was Jocelyn Earnest."

He had tried to sell the lake house for about $2.9 million, but couldn't. It was 2007 and the housing bubble had burst. Earnest, in charge of the couple's finances, was in a fix with loans, credit card debt, that more than $6,000-a-month lake house mortgage.

"I had plenty of money," Earnest told Smith.

"When you say plenty, what do you mean?"

"Thousands," he replied. "Plenty of money to take care of everything."

It turns out the math major and assistant principal was more than $1 million in debt.

"Wesley was living on credit cards...borrowing from this card to pay this card, to pay the house...and he couldn't carry that load," said Babb.

After Jocelyn died, the bill collectors kept calling and another person pitched in to bail Earnest out of debt. His new love: Shameka Wright.

"How often were there collection agency calls?" Smith asked.

"Regularly," said Wright.

"And what did you do?"

"I actually paid them."

"So, how much money were you paying, Shameka?

"I don't remember the exact number of how much."


"More than that."


"Ummm huh," Wright affirmed.

Investigators thought they had their motive: Wesley Earnest killed his wife, Jocelyn, for money. But there was that puzzling phrase in the purported suicide note: Jocelyn's "new love."

"Jocelyn was a wonderful person. She was somebody people aspired to be... there was definitely an emotional attachment where we both felt it..." Marcy Shepherd testified.

Shepherd, Jocelyn's co-worker and friend, thought she knew who the new love was and stunned the courtroom with her answer.

Marcy Shepherd: We kissed maybe three times.

Prosecutor Wes Nance: OK. Did you love Jocelyn?

Marcy Shepherd: Yes.

"Had you met this woman before and thought she was just a co-worker?" Smith asked Earnest.

"Never met her," he said.

"And there were no rumors?"

"I'm livin' a couple of hundred miles away," Earnest replied. "Who would bring a rumor to me?"

Prosecutor Wes Nance described their relationship as little more than a crush Marcy Shepherd had on Jocelyn.

"Her private life did not lead towards her death that night," said Nance.

Asked about the relationship between Shepherd and Jocelyn, Laura Rogers said, "I think that only Marcy and Jocelyn know that answer...and you know Jocelyn's not around to give her testimony. And if my sister was happy, she deserved to be happy...and Lord knows she spent the last three years unhappy."

Unhappy and afraid of Wesley Earnest, according to Jocelyn's best friend, Jennifer Kerns.

"She just wasn't sure anymore what he was capable of. She, on more than one occasion, expressed the fear to me and the worry that he would kill her," said Kerns.

Video: Jennifer Kerns on Jocelyn's fear of Wesley Earnest

Even more revealing, Jocelyn chronicled her feelings in spiral notebooks she used as journals.

"'...if I die. Wesley killed me and he probably shot me,'" Investigator Gary Babb said, reciting a journal entry.

"What did you think when you read that?" asked Smith.

"I thought she got it right."

It was explosive information, but the prosecution had a problem. Because Jocelyn couldn't be questioned by the defense, her journals were considered hearsay. The judge ruled they couldn't be used as evidence.

"She had decided to stand up to him as far as the divorce and finances go, but on a personal level she was scared to death of him," Nance told Smith.

"And you see that in her journals?"

"Absolutely," the prosecutor replied.

Then, 15 months after Jocelyn's death, there was another bizarre twist.

"I get a phone call as I'm traveling from one of our investigators on the homicide case," Prosecutor Randy Krantz explained. "And he says, 'Mr. Krantz, you're not gonna believe what is occurring.'"

It happened while Earnest was out on bond awaiting trial. The multimillion-dollar lake house was burning to the ground.

"And what is being described is 40-foot flames," Krantz continued, "and it is burning hot and fast and it is Wesley Earnest's house and Wesley Earnest cannot be found.

"There's now been two major incidents, this man's...wife has died a traumatic death... the house burns down. ...And so you have to start thinking this is the most unluckiest individual in the world, or his absence from these major incidents are not coincidental."

"Couldn't he just be a really unlucky guy?" Smith asked.

"Certainly," Krantz replied. "But as we continue to investigate the fire, certain things start to emerge...Wesley Earnest is due a huge insurance payoff and plus retains the land. Now the debt that burdened that house is eliminated, plus the land is still there, which is worth millions."

"Problem solved," said Smith.

"Problem is solved."

The cause of the fire was inconclusive. The judge ruled it could not be used as evidence in the murder trial because the fire could not be linked to Jocelyn's death. But, according to prosecutors, Earnest's behavior that day was suspicious.

"At the time of the fire...Mr. Earnest was allegedly in northern Virginia with Shameka Wright," Krantz said. "He had maintained a rental website renting this lake house out surreptitiously behind Jocelyn's back. Within minutes of the fire, the website goes down. ...Suddenly the house is not for rent anymore."

"You know the scuttlebutt is Wesley burned down the house. He couldn't afford it anymore, he set it on fire," Smith remarked to Earnest's mother, Patricia Wimmer.

"Wesley would have taken pride in being able to go by sometime and say, 'I designed and I built that house,'" she said.

"Do you think he's capable of burning down that house?"

"I wouldn't think so. No," replied Wimmer.

Prosecutors were confident Wesley Earnest was the trigger man, but, without the journals and without the fire, could they prove it?

Wesley Earnest believes justice is on his side.

"Keep an open mind. Realize there's more than one side to the story," he told Tracy Smith.

Earnest claims he never had any money problems and that he didn't know about Marcy Shepherd or the journals or that Jocelyn was frightened of him.

"In the end, make a decision when you have all the information," he said.

The women who stand by Wesley Earnest believe the evidence against him does not add up.

"A partial a place that he called home for over 10 years. Excuse me. ... Where's his DNA?" Earnest's mother, Patricia Wimmer asked. "Yes... he committed adultery. OK? ...He did not kill her. Being an adulterer does not make him a murderer."

Asked if she thinks Wesley Earnest is capable of murder, his girlfriend, Shameka Wright, says, "No."

"Is there any chance that he's put one over on you? That you've fallen under Wesley's spell?" Smith asked.

"I don't think so," Wright replied. "I feel like I'm strong enough to know when someone has pulled the wool over my eyes."

Jocelyn's father, Bill Branham, was now face to face with an alleged murderer who used to be his son-in-law.

"First time in a long time that I had seen Wesley was in the courtroom," he said with a sigh. "I was thinking, 'That is the son of a bitch who killed my daughter.'"

"If it's not you, do you want to find who did this?" Smith asked Earnest.

"Certainly," he replied.

"Are you making an effort to do that?"

"I've got the best defense team in the state."

The defense won't be easy. The prosecution painted the assistant principal as a manipulative, desperate, and greedy man who executed his wife. A few days before her death, Wesley Earnest borrowed a co-worker's pickup truck.

He was on the highway for hours prosecutors say, driving from Chesapeake to Jocelyn's home on Pine Bluff Drive.

"By the time he got there it was dark," Prosecutor Wes Nance said. "Wesley Earnest either snuck into an unlocked door or forced his way in when Jocelyn was at the door ... she had time to run five or six steps from the front door when he pulled out the .357 and shot her in the back of the head."

It was Wesley Earnest, prosecutors say, who cranked up Jocelyn's thermostat to make it appear she had died much earlier in the day.

"I think that Wesley Earnest not only thinks that he's smarter than everybody else, he believes that he is smarter than everyone else," said Prosecutor Randy Krantz.

They insist the note was not a suicide note, but a homicide note Earnest typed to stage the murder scene.

"Do you think that Wesley's capable of writing a fake suicide note?" Smith asked Earnest's mother.

"Wesley would never end sentences in prepositions...some of the punctuation in there was wrong. No, he would not write a suicide note," Patricia Wimmer replied.

And that truck Earnest borrowed a few days before Jocelyn died? Oddly enough, he borrowed it again two weeks after her death.

"He goes to a Kramer Tire station...speaks to the manager," said Nance.

Tire store manager Rick Kuehne remembers that truck and Wesley Earnest.

"It was a Chevy Silverado, maroon color," Kuehne told "48 Hours Mystery." "The gentleman picked the least expensive tires we had in that size.... I said, 'Are you sure you want to replace those tires?' I said, 'I don't see a thing wrong with 'em.'"

"...cause the tires were almost brand new," Keuhne testified.

"He says, 'Yeah, I don't like those tires. They give me a bad ride. Please take 'em off,'" he told "48 Hours Mystery."

"Well, I can't speak for that tire expert, but all I know is Wesley, if he thought they were damaged and needed to be changed, he would change them," Wimmer told Smith. "Changing tires does not make him a murderer."

Then, on April 1, 2010, April Fool's Day, the star witness -- assistant principal Wesley Earnest -- would finally tell his side of the story.

Earnest told the jury when he learned of wife Jocelyn's death.

"It was devastating," he said. And he testified about the weapon found near her body.

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone: Do you recognize this gun, Mr. Earnest?

Wesley Earnest: Yes, looks like the...yes, sir, I do.

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone: And tell me who purchased this gun.

Wesley Earnest: I purchased it.

It was gift, he says, for Jocelyn so that she could feel safe.

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone: Did you kill Jocelyn Earnest?

Wesley Earnest: No sir.

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone: You return to this area on the 19th or the 20th and do anything that caused harm to her in any way?

Wesley Earnest: No sir.

"Sometimes it was hard to keep my lunch down. It was very fake, very rehearsed," Laura Rogers said of watching Earnest testify.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz: Mrs. Earnest was shunning your affection. True?

Wesley Earnest: Shunning seems awfully harsh.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz told Smith, "My goal on his cross examination was to let his real personality emerge." Krantz grilled Earnest about his lies and deception.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz: What happened Mr. Earnest? You lied to your friends and co-workers about you marital status didn't you? You misled them.

Wesley Earnest: I was trying to move on.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz: You misled them didn't you Mr. Earnest?

Wesley Earnest: Yes sir.

The questioning was heated, but Wesley Earnest seemed to keep his cool.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz: Are you having difficulty understanding my questions?

Wesley Earnest: No sir.

"Wesley Earnest...has a goal of success that he wouldn't allow anyone to get in the way of," Prosecutor Wes Nance explained, "and we believe that it's his frustration over her unwillingness to give him that goose that lays the golden egg, is ultimately what drove him to kill her."

Video: Nance on Earnest's personality and motive

When asked about his whereabouts on the day Jocelyn died, Earnest testified he left work around 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

Wesley Earnest: I considered going to a wrestling match but because my throat was hurting. I decided to go catch a nap instead.

Prosecutor Randy Krantz: Between 4:00 and the next morning, no one can vouch for your whereabouts, can they Mr. Earnest?

Wesley Earnest: I suppose not.

Prosecutors believe the assistant principal's sore throat story was just one more lie, one more piece of his premeditated murder plot. After 10 days of testimony, the jury would finally get the case.

"Are you prepared if the verdict comes back guilty? Have you thought about that?" Smith asked Earnest.

"I have," he replied.

"What do you do?"

"Stare at the walls in a 6x8 cell."

Three hours and 35 minutes of deliberations and then a verdict: Assistant principal Dr. Wesley Earnest was guilty of murdering his wife, Jocelyn.

"It's like a two-edged sword," Joyce Young said. "I had to feel what his mother must have been feeling."

The verdict was a heartbreaking defeat for Wesley Earnest's family. He was now a convicted killer. But one month later while waiting for sentencing...

"It was like we had been punched in the stomach," Nance said.

...a bombshell that could change Earnest's fate.

"A prosecutor has a duty to make sure that justice is done for Jocelyn Earnest, but also Wesley Earnest."

The guilty verdict was a victory for prosecutors, but it wouldn't last long. A posting on the local newspaper's website was about to turn this contentious case upside down.

"The posting essentially said that...the jurors had read the journals..." Prosecutor Randy Krantz told Tracy Smith.

Jurors were not supposed to read the journals.

"To whatever extent they had evidence of value, there was a strong risk that if these journals had been allowed in, that it could have created all sorts of issues on appeal that would require us to try the case over," explained Krantz.

It turns out those journals -- Jocelyn's handwritten heartfelt thoughts -- had been placed in the wrong box and taken to the jury room.

A special hearing was called and the jury admitted to reading the journals. The jurors said they based their guilty verdict on inadmissible evidence: Jocelyn's very own words.

"It made us physically ill. We did not want those journals in for that very reason. And then a simple human error...created that situation," said Krantz.

The judge had no choice but to declare a mistrial.

Earnest would get a second chance and Jocelyn's family would have to face their nightmare all over again.

"You pick yourself up and realize that life can kick you in the stomach sometimes," Jocelyn's mother, Joyce Young, said. "But in the back of my mind there was Jocelyn. And we can do it. We can do it for Jocelyn."

Defense attorney Joey Sanzone believes a new jury will see reasonable doubt.

"The one thing that I do know for sure in this case is that while there are many people that have many beliefs, that nothing is iron clad, and nothin' is 100-percent certain in this case."

Nearly seven months after the first trial -- more than two-and-a-half years after Jocelyn's death -- assistant principal Wesley Earnest would once again face a jury for the murder of his wife.

There were no TV cameras allowed at the second trial. The prosecution focused on the purported suicide note, Jocelyn's fear -- through the voices of her friends -- her relationship with Marcy Shepherd and Earnest's debt and deceptive ways.

The defense hammered on the unreliability of the fingerprint evidence and Earnest's alibi.

And once again, Wesley Earnest would take the witness stand.

"The question that I ask him, 'Isn't it true, Mr. will lie and deceive people when it is in your best interest?' And even then he eventually conceded, 'Yes, I will,'" said Krantz.

Same judge, new jury. But this time, Earnest would be given more leeway to explain his answers. It seemed the defense was gaining ground.

"We left the courtroom that day, I felt somewhat defeated," Krantz told Smith. "I felt that I personally let the team down."

The prosecution desperately needed a new approach. Wes Nance came up with an idea at 4:15 a.m.

"A piece of evidence that we had, sort of, set aside throughout the first trial and all the way through the second trial could be a key component to put Mr. a corner that he would have a hard time backing out of," he said.

The plan was to confront Earnest about a very unusual timeline handwritten by Jocelyn: a detailed history of her life she had been keeping as part of her therapy. It was discovered inside her home and prosecutors were certain Wesley Earnest had altered it.

"Mr. Earnest had written entries as if he was Jocelyn Earnest writing those," Nance explained. "...he would either have to deny writing that or he would have to admit that he had done this before. He had assumed her identity, just like the killer had in the fake suicide note."

Video: More from Nance on the journals and timeline

Jocelyn's mother will never forget the question Prosecutor Nance asked her former son-in-law.

"'Well if you wrote on the timeline how did you get in the house to write on it?' He was looking at the prosecution and he just kept talking," said Joyce Young.

"He turns to the jury and with a smile on his face indicates that she had a broken window on her home. And he pantomimes with his hands how he could move that window up and enter into it. Frankly I was a Perry Mason moment of the first time in my 15 years of prosecuting," said Nance.

"Could you tell looking at the jury that they got it?" Smith asked Jocelyn's sister.

"You know, I was just hopin' and prayin', like please hear every moment of this. Because you know, he's nailin' his own coffin," said Laura Rogers.

The second time around would be swift and deliberate.

"When it came time for the verdict...we sat there holding hands and I felt this peace come over me," Rogers said. In tears, she said, "'I got this, sis. Don't worry. It'll all work out.'"

Once again, Wesley Earnest was found guilty of first-degree murder. The jury recommended a sentence of life in prison plus three years and the judge agreed.

"I think it's an overwhelming sense of relief," Nance told reporters. "A lot of dedicated people worked very hard to come to this day and we're glad to see it finally here."

All the faces of Wesley Earnest hardened into one defining image: pale and resigned.

Still, to his mother, he's a victim.

"When you look at him now, what do you see?" asked Smith.

"I see an innocent man that's behind bars that was convicted by a jury that I feel had preconceived ideas," said Patricia Wimmer.

There's an old photo of Earnest -- a "Prisoner for a Day" wanted poster -- a joke from his days as an assistant principal that seems like an eerie prediction. The prisoner for a day is now locked away for life.

"Wesley Earnest is a killer," Nance said. "He's a person who attempted to manipulate his wife and did so for many years, but when that stopped working she stood up to him, he had to remove her and he did it in a very deliberate way."

"...he's where he belongs. You have to pay for it. It doesn't bring Jocelyn back," an emotional Joyce Young said, "and that hole in my heart will take a long time to heal. But we'll make it. We'll make it. We'll be fine."

Wesley Earnest is appealing his conviction.

Earnest and Shameka Wright have ended their relationship.

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