A former college football player was convicted Tuesday of murdering his teenage ex-girlfriend by firing two shots through her bedroom wall while she slept.
A Knoxville jury deliberated for four hours before finding William Riley Gaul, 19, guilty of first-degree murder for killing Emma Walker, 16. Gaul was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 51 years.
In the courtroom, people gasped after the verdict was read, according to WBIR-10 in Knoxville.
Gaul, a former Division III freshman wide receiver at Maryville College, had been free on bond. Friends and family of Walker, a former cheerleader, hugged outside of the courtroom after he was taken into custody.
"Today is about justice for Emma Walker and her family," Knox County District Attorney Charme Allen said, according to WBIR-10.
Gaul and Walker were high school sweethearts who met at Central High School in Knoxville and dated for about two years. Gaul had just finished his freshman year at Maryville before the murder.
The prosecution and defense agreed that Gaul fired the fatal shots in November 2016, but the contention was his intent. Prosecutors said he shot Walker in anger. But Gaul's lawyers argued he never meant to harm her and was trying to be a "hero" by scaring her back into his arms. Walker died from a gunshot wound to the head.
"To be somebody's hero, to rescue somebody, you have to have contact - and the only way you can have contact is to get their attention," defense attorney Wesley Stone said during the trial.
"When Riley Gaul fired that shot in the backyard, as crazy as it is, as bizarre as it is, he was hoping that he could come to her rescue."
Gaul acted strangely after the couple broke up, according to prosecutors. Two nights before Walker was killed, she found Gaul lying in a ditch and saying he'd been kidnapped. The following day she saw a man in black walking around her neighborhood and later banging on her door. Prosecutors said Gaul was trying to fabricate potential future suspects.
The jury also found Gaul guilty of stalking, tampering with evidence and possession of a firearm in a dangerous felony, among other crimes. He'll be sentenced for those charges on July 20.
"Every person in here that she touched, their lives will never be the same again because of him, and his selfishness, his lies, his possessiveness, his manipulation and his obsessiveness of Emma Walker," Knox County Assistant District Attorney Kevin Allen said as he pointed to Gaul during his closing argument.
Gaul tweeted in Walker's memory only hours after her death.
“That's my beautiful Emma. Rest easy now sweetheart,” he wrote. "1 Corinthians 13:8. Be sure to remind God about our verse. I love you. Forever and always.” He was arrested the next day.
[Photo: Knox County Sheriff's Office, Facebook]