Riley Gaul was found guilty of the 2016 murder of his former girlfriend, Emma Walker. Despite appearing as an innocent young man embarking on his college journey, Gaul shocked those acquainted with him by committing such a heinous act. The documentary ‘Bad Romance: Shot in the Dark’ delves into the unsettling events preceding Emma’s murder, shedding light on the disturbing nature of their relationship. The evidence that ultimately led to Gaul’s conviction is meticulously scrutinized in the episode.
Who is Riley Gaul?
In 2014, a 16-year-old named William Riley Gaul was attending Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a bright student and wide receiver for the football team, he crossed paths with 14-year-old Emma Walker, a cheerleader at the same school. Gaul, raised by his mother and grandparents, discovered a partner and confidante in Emma, leading to the initiation of their romantic relationship. While their connection started well, it wasn’t long before troubling patterns began to emerge.
Emma’s friends and family claim that Gaul had been isolating their daughter from them, insisting on being the sole person to spend time with her. The relationship was marked by significant conflicts, leading to multiple breakups, yet they consistently reconciled. Emma’s friends shared that Gaul controlled what Emma wore, who she spoke to, and every other minute detail of her life. They recounted instances where he waited for her outside the supermarket where Emma worked part-time.
In 2016, despite Gaul joining Maryville College, he continued to date Emma. Concerningly, her parents discovered texts from Gaul expressing that she was dead to him, and he awaited reading her obituary. They felt that he was very possessive, clingy, and detrimental to their daughter’s well-being. Troubled by all of this, they prohibited him from visiting their house and attempted to convince Emma to end the relationship. Around Halloween 2016, they even went as far as to ground their daughter in their concern.
Surprisingly, it worked, and Emma broke up with Gaul, returning to her previous self. However, the breakup didn’t sit well with Gaul, and he ingested Vicodin pills with alcohol while at college. His self-harming efforts thankfully didn’t pan out, but roommates did note Gaul’s frequent mood swings during this period. On the other hand, on November 18, 2016, Emma confided in a friend about receiving threatening texts that targeted her loved ones. One of the messages claimed Gaul was outside, prompting her to investigate.
Emma found Gaul in a ditch, and he asserted he’d been kidnapped. Nevertheless, people were skeptical and suspected he was lying, especially when he asked them not to inform the authorities. The following day, Emma’s mother encountered Gaul in their house. Emma explained that someone dressed in black had been ringing the doorbell, and out of fear, she’d called Gaul. Emma’s mother urged caution and told her that it was a strange coincidence he was present in both unsettling incidents, yet Emma dismissed the idea he was fabricating the incidents.
During the investigation following Emma’s death, one of Gaul’s friends disclosed to the police that Gaul had mentioned taking his grandfather’s 9mm gun, claiming it was for his and Emma’s safety. Another friend revealed that he had recently inquired about removing fingerprints from a gun. In Gaul’s subsequent interrogation, he consistently referred to Emma as “the girl,” refusing to mention her name, and denied any involvement in her murder.
Gaul’s friends, though, concerned about his behavior, approached the police offering assistance. Thus came the sting operation, wherein Gaul’s friends were wired with cameras as they approached him to help dispose of the murder weapon — his grandfather’s gun — and other evidence. Gaul was subsequently arrested, and the police obtained additional physical evidence, including black clothing linking him to the individual ringing Emma’s doorbell.
Riley Gaul is in Prison Today
William Riley Gaul’s trial commenced in 2018, where his defense argued that Gaul had no intention of killing Emma but merely aimed to scare her for attention. Yet, on his behalf, his team refuted he was the individual dressed in black ringing her doorbell. Gaul chose not to address the court directly, letting his defense team handle the proceedings. In the end, following just over 5 hours of deliberation, the jury convicted him on charges of first-degree murder, stalking, theft, reckless endangerment, and possessing a firearm during a dangerous felony.
By Tennessee law, a murder charge carries an automatic life sentence. During the sentencing hearing, Gaul apologized to Emma’s family, maintaining he never intended to end her life. As per legal provisions, he received a life sentence with the possibility of parole after 51 years. He subsequently attempted to appeal his sentence and request a new trial, but these efforts proved unsuccessful, with the Supreme Court also denying his appeal in 2023. Therefore, at 25 years old, Gaul is currently incarcerated at the Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville, Lake County.
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