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Ex-Va. principal loses murder conviction appeal

Tuesday - 12/4/2012, 4:37pm  ET

RICHMOND, Va. - A Virginia appeals panel on Tuesday rejected the appeal of a former high school administrator convicted of killing his estranged wife.

A three-judge panel of the Virginia Court of Appeals upheld Wesley Earnest's first-degree murder conviction and life sentence.

Earnest argued that Bedford County Circuit Judge James W. Updike Jr. improperly denied him an opportunity to call an expert witness to question the state's fingerprint analysis. Two forensic scientists testifying for the prosecution said two latent fingerprints found on a typewritten note several feet from Jocelyn Earnest's body were the defendant's.

The defense attorney wanted to call his own expert to testify about fingerprint methodology. That witness also would have challenged statements by one state expert that "the chances of any two people having the same fingerprint are one in 66 billion" and "nobody has ever found two different individuals on the planet with the same fingerprint," the appeals court said.

The appeals panel said in its unanimous ruling that the defense witness was not a fingerprint examiner, that her expertise lay in an academic evaluation of various studies of fingerprint analysis, and her testimony would be hearsay.

Prosecutors said Earnest drove 200 miles from his home in Chesapeake in December 2007, shot his wife in the head at her Forest home and left a typed suicide note.

Earnest was first convicted in April 2010, but a judge declared a mistrial three months later because the jury had seen journal writings it wasn't allowed to see. He was convicted again in a retrial held in Amherst County with jurors chosen from Nelson County.

Jocelyn Earnest graduated from West Virginia University and was a member of the Mountaineer women's basketball team.

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