KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Jurors are expected to begin deliberations Tuesday in the first-degree murder trial of a former Division III college football player charged in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend.
Prosecutors rested their case against William Riley Gaul on Monday after jurors heard the defendant’s two-hour interview with sheriff’s investigators following the death of 16-year-old Emma Walker of Knoxville, Tennessee. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
Gaul, then an 18-year-old wide receiver, had just finished his freshman season at Tennessee’s Maryville College when Walker was found dead on Nov. 21, 2016. Gaul was dismissed from Maryville’s team after his arrest.
“I hope to God I’m not a suspect in her death,” Gaul says near the end of his interview with Knox County sheriff’s investigators Allen Merritt and James Hurst. “I wouldn’t hurt that girl. I would hurt myself before I hurt her, and that’s what I’ve done.”
Gaul spends much of the interview denying he possesses a firearm, even as the investigators repeatedly say that friends of the defendant told them he had stolen his grandfather’s gun.
“I don’t know where it’s at,” Gaul said. “I can’t be any more honest than what I’m being.”
Toward the end of the interview, the investigators let him know that rounds from the gun belong to Gaul’s grandfather were found outside Walker’s home.
Prosecutors say Gaul, now 19, used his grandfather’s gun to fire shots through Walker’s bedroom wall from outside her house. Christopher Lochmuller, who performed the autopsy, testified Monday that Walker died of a gunshot wound to the left side of head, just above her left ear.
Defense lawyer Wesley Stone has acknowledged that Gaul fired the shot but says the defendant never intended to kill Walker and was actually making a misguided attempt at “coming to her rescue, being her hero.” Stone said in his opening statement last week that “some of us who are familiar with handguns may very well know that by shooting into a wall blindly, it will go through a wall. Some of us may not.”
Merritt’s testimony disputed the defense’s notion that Gaul never meant to kill Walker.
The investigator said Gaul had visited Walker’s home enough times to realize that the top of her mattress was right in line with the bottom of her window sill. Merritt said Gaul’s familiarity with Walker’s room enabled the defendant to know exactly where he needed to shoot into the house’s vinyl siding exterior in order to have the best chance of “inflicting serious bodily injury.”
Merritt said “the actual entrance of the bullet into the residence was in a direct location or orientation of where Emma Walker’s head would be inside the residence, again based on intimate knowledge of the residence.”
Merritt said the shooter likely was 4-5 feet (1.2-1.5 meters) from the back corner of the house when the shots were fired. Merritt also cited scuff marks behind the Walkers’ house as evidence that Gaul might have run and jumped over a fence after firing the shots.
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