KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT)- William Riley Gaul stands accused of murdering his former girlfriend, 16-year-old Emma Walker.
The trial for the man accused of shooting and killing a Knoxville teenager began Monday, April 30. On Friday, Gaul's former roommate and football player at Maryville College told the jury Gaul had sent him a Snapchat with a message not to talk to police on the morning Emma Walker's body was found.
Investigators said that on November 21, 2016, Gaul fired a gun into Walker's bedroom while she was asleep, killing the Central High School cheerleader.
The Knox County Sheriff's Office reported that Walker had broken off a relationship with Gaul two weeks before they said he fired a 9 mm handgun into Walker's bedroom. Prosecutors opened arguments Tuesday, saying that Gaul was dressed in black, from head to toe, when he shot Emma Walker at 3 a.m. at her home. Prosecutors described the relationship between Gaul and Walker as "toxic," saying that her parents had tried to stop her from seeing him. Several of Gaul's own friends testified Thursday that Gaul was "in a dark place," and that the relationship between Gaul and Walker was "toxic."
On Wednesday, a 17-year-old Central High School student testified about Walker's "unsteady" relationship with Gaul. The teen said about two or three weeks after a breakup, Walker was "shaken up and scared" after Gaul allegedly came to her home and began yelling with her. The student testifying claimed that the next day Walker contacted her, saying someone was trying to get into her house. The witness said Walker sent a group text message to multiple friends during the incident.
A second friend said Walker texted friends, "I thought I was going to die," following the incident when someone allegedly tried entering her home. The same friend described Gaul as overbearing and controlling towards Walker. "It was never like the ideal relationship where you treat each other with respect," Walker's friend testified. "I felt she deserved better the whole course of the relationship."
According to a witness, a group of girls was at a sleepover on November 18 when Walker told them about "threatening texts" before going outside to see Gaul. When the group headed back inside, the witness said Walker told the girls she was scared. The witness said she assumed the text messages Walker spoke about were coming from Gaul.
"He was the only person who would do something like that," the witness said. "She wanted to get away from him for good this time."
The District Attorney's office described a pattern of stalking between Gaul and Walker in the nights leading up to her death. Prosecutors said he had been walking through Walker's neighborhood dressed in black. On Wednesday, a friend of Walker said she saw Gaul in Walker's neighborhood on the morning of November 19, wearing all black. She testified that Walker had texted her and said someone in all black had tried to break into her house.
Gaul's stepfather testified Wednesday, saying he did not remember having breakfast with Gaul on the morning of November 19.
Prosecutors said Gaul's grandfather, who testified against his grandson Wednesday, found his gun missing days before Emma's death. They argued his grandfather was concerned that Gaul had been talking about suicide before Walker's death.
On Thursday, Mac Seagle, a football player and student at Maryville College with Gaul, said Gaul had attempted suicide on MC campus about two weeks before Emma's death. Seagle and his friends took Gaul to the hospital, and Gaul returned to campus two or three days later, when he was said to be in counseling.
Seagle told the jury Thursday that Gaul would borrow his phone to call either his mom or Emma. On the night Emma was shot, records showed 52 calls from Seagle's phone to Emma's within a 26-minute span.
Gaul's roommate, Andrew Walker Stanley, said Friday that Gaul did not return to their room at Maryville College until 4:45 a.m. on Monday.
"He said he'd been out," Stanley recalled. "That was it. And then he asked if I could help him get up for his 8 a.m. [class]."
Later, Stanley told the jury he received a Snapchat from Gaul saying not to talk to police.
Seagle said, however, that he did not believe Gaul was angry or violent, and had only threatened to hurt himself.
However, Gaul's best friend since second grade, Isaac Ewers, took the stand Thursday, recounting, along with friends Alex McCarty and Noah Walton, a bizarre incident on that Friday night, November 18, in which they received a call from Gaul, who stated he had been hit over the head and kidnapped and did not know where he had been taken. Not 10 minutes later, though, Gaul allegedly showed up where his friends had been and said he had been hit over the head and could not remember any events of the night.
That's when Ewers said he knew "where [Gaul's behavior] was heading." Ewers told the jury he believed Gaul had a potential to act violently towards himself and others after his alleged kidnapping.
Gaul's grandfather said he kept his gun either in a dresser or under the seat of his car, always holstered. He testified that he had swapped cars with his grandson to get tires on Gaul's car. When he got back into his car, he told the jury he felt under the seat and found the holster was empty. He said when he asked Gaul about the missing gun, he denied knowing anything about it. He then reported the gun stolen, having never fired the gun before it went missing.
However, Gaul had told his friend Alex McCarty about being in possession of the gun, McCarty told the jury Thursday. McCarty then relayed that information to Isaac Ewers.
Ewers said Gaul had asked him to visit him in the days after Emma's death, but Ewers declined. When asked why, Ewers told the jury, "Because I knew that he had a hand in what had happened."
Ewers said he reached out to Gaul to confront him about a favor he had asked of his friends.
"What was Riley trying to get you to do?" the prosecution asked Thursday.
"To get rid of everything that he had, the weapon," Ewers answered.
Ewers said he urged Gaul to turn himself in to law enforcement, saying that if he was innocent, then the justice system would lead to that conclusion.
Defense arguments claimed that Gaul did not intend to harm his former girlfriend, although his behavior was "bizarre, reckless conduct" in the days leading up to her death. To defense questions, witnesses like mac Seagle stated they only believed Gaul to be a harm to himself and not others.
On Friday, forensic technicians from the Knox County Sheriff's Office and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation took the stand, identifying photographs of Gaul's vehicle and items within it. The prosecution called Kendall Stoner with TBI. Stoner examined blood from Emma Walker and a handgun, taken from what investigators referred to as "the crime scene." Stoner also analyzed shoes, gloves, black sweatpants and a black sweatshirt taken from the Hyundai Tucson that Gaul was in when he was arrested by authorities.
Of those items, Stoner said DNA found on the gun was deemed inconclusive, while DNA taken from a shoe and a sweatshirt matched Gaul's DNA.
The jury was also shown pictures and video of Emma Walker's bedroom, the scene where she was shot and killed. Some pictures and portions of video were kept from the jury, and the judge analyzed 3D imaging from the crime scene while the jury was out of the courtroom.
Trial wrapped up around 6 p.m. Friday for the first week of the case, but was expected to begin again on Monday, May 7, at 9:30 a.m.
Gaul was a freshman wide receiver and student at Maryville College, while Walker was a cheerleader and honors student at Central High School in Knoxville.