William Riley Gaul was a college football player when he murdered his 16-year-old cheerleader ex-girlfriend, Emma Jane Walker, while she was asleep in her bed at her home in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Gaul and Emma began dating in 2014 when he was a junior at Central High School, and she was a freshman.
Their relationship seemed to be going well until Emma found out he was going back and forth between her and another girl, according to Jill Walker’s testimony.
Jill and her husband, Mark Walker, tried to get their daughter to stop seeing Gaul.
“We set limits on when they could see each other,” Jill told Knox News in 2018, but Emma and Gaul would go behind their backs. When they found out about it in October 2016, they grounded her.
“This wasn’t the best thing for her, not the healthiest thing for her as a person, to be in a relationship with him.”
One of Emma’s friends testified. She said, “It was never like the ideal relationship where you treat each other with respect. I felt she deserved better the whole course of the relationship.”
When Gaul started his freshman year at Maryville College, Emma ended their relationship.
He had a hard time accepting their breakup, and he did everything in his power to win her back.
Gaul reportedly threatened to kill himself, he would send Emma a slew of anonymous phone calls, and a series of odd text messages.
One of the messages Gaul sent to Emma’s phone reads as follows: “We have him now… If you don’t care about him anymore, then it shouldn’t bother you.”
“Call the police, and he dies. Your choice… If you’d like to hear his final screams, give me a call. He’s in a ditch beside the house. It’s a shame you can all of a sudden not value someone’s life.”
It didn’t stop there, though.
On Nov. 18, 2016, Emma went to a friend’s house for a sleepover after attending a football game. It was during that time that she received multiple phone calls from an unknown number.
Her friends said she appeared “scared” and “sad,” WATE reported.
At some point during the sleepover, Emma looked outside and saw a man standing at the end of the driveway. When she went outside for a closer look, she realized it was her ex-boyfriend.
Gaul was dressed in all black, and he had visible injuries to his head. He told her that he had been kidnapped, but she wasn’t interested in what he had to say; so, she told him to go home.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin Allen stated that Gaul fabricated the story about being kidnapped because he wanted a chance to talk to Emma Walker.
At the time, they weren’t on speaking terms.
The following day, Gaul went to Emma’s neighborhood and began walking around. Afterward, he knocked on her door.
She became frightened and asked her parents to set the house alarm, which was “something she’d never requested before,” her mother said.
At around 3 a.m. on Nov. 21, 2016, Gaul returned to Emma Walker’s house. This time, he was armed with a 9 mm handgun that he had stolen from his grandfather.
Gaul stood outside in their fenced backyard and shot twice through Emma’s bedroom before he fled the scene.
Three hours later, Jill went to wake Emma up for school. She stood in the doorway and called out her name, but there was no response.
Jill told ABC News in 2018 that it was “usually very easy to wake [Emma] up.”
She then bumped her leg in an attempt to get her up, but again, there was no response. It was only when Jill looked at Emma’s face that she noticed something was wrong.
She checked her pulse and couldn’t find a heartbeat, so she immediately called 911.
When the paramedics arrived, they realized that Emma had been shot, as an officer found a bullet hole in the wall and another one in her pillow.
But there wasn’t anything paramedics could do. Emma was pronounced dead at the scene.
An autopsy showed that she had been shot while she was sleeping: twice in the back of the head and behind her left ear.
Knoxville police arrested Gaul several days after the shooting.
He was charged with first-degree murder, aggravated stalking, theft, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, and employing a firearm during a dangerous felony, according to WVLT.
His bond was set at $1 million.
During Gaul’s trial, Assistant District Attorney Kevin Allen said, “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.”
“They’re crushed with the loss of a spirit that was like sunshine to them. She was strong-willed. She was sassy. She was sarcastic sometimes. But she was their light.”
The defense team stated that Gaul was “attempting to be her hero, not her killer.” They added that he fired those shots to scare her into reaching out to him for help, which he believed would have rekindled their relationship.
“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 lawyer Wesley Stone said.
“When 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.”
Stone claimed that his client was not guilty of first-degree murder, as “it requires an intent to kill.” He then asked the jurors to find Gaul “guilty of reckless homicide, not first-degree murder.”
On May 8, 2018, a jury of eight men and four women deliberated for four hours before finding Gaul guilty of stalking, tampering with evidence, reckless endangerment, possessing a firearm during a dangerous felony, and theft between $500 and $1,000.
At his sentencing hearing in Knox County Criminal Court, Gaul apologized to Emma’s family. He said, “I’m sorry I took Emma away from you.”
“My intentions were not and never have been to cause physical harm… I wanted to scare her. I loved Emma. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her or what I did.”
In September 2018, Gaul was sentenced to life in prison. He will be eligible for parole after serving 51 years.