Cops Charge Educator With Murdering Estranged Wife

A high school administrator in Virginia who allegedly shot his estranged wife to death in December may have tried to make her death look like a suicide, according to the Bedford County Sheriff's Office.

Wesley Earnest, 37, was arrested Wednesday night and charged with first-degree murder more than two months after the body of 38-year-old Joceyln Banham Earnest was found by a co-worker in Banham Earnest's house in Forest, Va.

She died of a single gunshot wound from a .357-caliber Smith and Wesson revolver, authorities said. The gun was found at the scene. Earnest later told investigators that he had once purchased a similar gun, but that he no longer owned it, according to a Bedford County investigator.

Earnest was arrested at a residence in Campbell County, where he was living. His legal address, according to authorities, is in the town of Moneta, where he and his wife jointly owned a house -- 30 miles from the Forest residence where her body was found.

Authorities investigating the case had not ruled on the cause of death until Earnest's arrest. Also found at what is now considered a crime scene were condoms and "computer generated paperwork," according to authorities, that did not belong to the woman.

"Obviously, she had a gunshot wound to her head," Maj. Ricky Gardner of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office told ABC News. "From the get-go, it was questionable whether it was a homicide or a self-inflicted gunshot wound. We were relying heavily on forensics to be able to tell us one way or the other."

Lab results came back with enough evidence of probable cause to obtain the arrest warrant, Gardner said.

Authorities offered few additional details about the case, citing an ongoing investigation that will continue until Earnest's murder trial. The former assistant principal at a Chesapeake, Va., high school also faces a felony weapons charge.

Thursday, authorities obtained a search warrant to comb through Earnest's 27-foot rental camper, according to a search warrant affidavit. Investigators were looking for condoms similar to those found at the scene of the crime, .357-caliber ammunition and computer equipment. A spiral notebook was recovered, according to the search warrant documents. Gardner would not comment on the notebook.

Jocelyn Banham Earnest, a project manager for a financial firm in Lynchburg, Va., had filed for divorce from her husband in 2006, according to documents filed in Bedford County and reported by the Hampton Roads Pilot. The details of the divorce had not been finalized.

In the divorce filings, Jocelyn Banham Earnest made a series of accusations, including that her husband was having an affair. He denied the affair and countered that his wife had locked him out of their home. The couple, married in 1995, was also disputing over how to divide up marital assets, including two jointly owned properties.

Wesley Earnest was at work at Great Bridge High School the day before his wife was found dead, as well as the actual day her body was found, a school official had previously told authorities. Earnest then took an unspecified leave from work in January. Earnest previously worked in the Lynchburg public school system as an administrator. On his assistant principal profile on the Great Bridge High School Web site, Earnest lists skydiving, boating, fishing and hunting among his favorite activities.

Janet M. Andrejco, principal at Great Bridge, sent a letter to parents Thursday announcing that Earnest had been suspended from his job pending the outcome of the murder trial.

"This letter is to inform you that Dr. Wesley Earnest, Assistant Principal of Great Bridge High School, has been charged with a serious crime in the western part of the state," Andrejco wrote. "Dr. Earnest has been away from school for some time, and that will continue until this matter is resolved."

Jocelyn Earnest, a native of Martinsburg, Va., was a four-year member of the West Virginia University women's basketball team between 1989 and 1992, according to the university's Web site. A tribute on her high school's Web site describes her as a pet lover who enjoyed playing a range of sports.

Wesley Earnest is being held without bond at the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority's Bedford Adult Detention Center. A bond hearing will be scheduled once the suspect either hires or is appointed an attorney.