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Court continues Wednesday in the trial of 19-year-old William Riley Gaul. Prosecutors claim he murdered his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend Emma Jane Walker. If there’s anything both sides can agree on, it’s that yes, he is responsible for her death. The question is: what was his intent?
The local sheriff’s office said Gaul opened fire at Walker’s home on the night of November 21, 2016. Walker was struck and killed, but defense lawyer Wesley Stone said in opening statements on Tuesday that Gaul meant to only shoot the house, not hit his ex-girlfriend.
The defendant faces multiple charges, including first-degree murder, aggravated stalking, and reckless endangerment. Stone said that his client isn’t guilty of stalking, and that he will ask jurors to only convict Gaul of reckless homicide, the murder charge.
“Intentionally doing an act and intending to kill are two entirely different things,” Stone said.
In Tennessee, reckless homicide is a Class D felony punishable by up to 12 years behind bars.
Stone suggested in his opening statement that his client’s behavior, while reckless, was meant to create a situation for Gaul to come to Walker’s rescue.
According to the state, however, Gaul engaged a campaign of stalking after Walker ended their relationship.
Prosecutor Kevin Allen called the relationship between the two “toxic,” in part because of the couple’s two-year age different (Gaul was 18 at the time). Walker’s parents started to discourage them being together, even grounding her.
Gaul wouldn’t let it go, even after Walker blocked his phone number. He allegedly continued to contact her via anonymous text messages, and pretending to be a “man in black” seen in the neighborhood. In one instance, she got anonymous text messages saying someone she knew was in trouble outside a home she was visiting, and she went outside to find Gaul in a ditch. It was a hoax concocted by Gaul, Allen said.
According to the state, Walker clearly wanted to stay away from Gaul, even telling her parents to start setting their alarm system. The night Walker died, Gaul borrowed a friend’s phone to beg for her attention via multiple phone calls and texts.
Walker’s mother Jill, who discovered Emma’s body, testified on Tuesday that she and her husband disapproved of Emma’s relationship with Gaul because of certain things the defendant said to their daughter.
Aaron Keller contributed to this report.
[Mugshot via Knox County Sheriff’s Office]