On April 19, Cobb County police say, Elizabeth Wall bought a gun.
Police allege she also did some very specific research on her phone that day, looking up “several articles” about people who kill their families and themselves as well as reading about wrongful death lawsuits.
And something else happened that day: Court records show that on April 19, Wall’s son Jerrod was deposed in a messy divorce and custody dispute with his wife, Jenna (though a source says the deposition was unremarkable).
Almost exactly two months later, Elizabeth, known in her community as “Betsy,” was accused of murdering her daughter-in-law, a kindergarten teacher, within earshot of her young grandchildren.
Police say Elizabeth used the gun she bought in April.
Details revealed Friday at Elizabeth’s probable cause hearing – including about the gun, the alleged Internet searches and other online activity – give some insight into the June crime, for which there is still no public motive.
In absence of that motive, Jenna’s months-long divorce from and custody dispute with her husband have drawn scrutiny.
Though he was asked about it on the stand Friday, homicide detective Shawn Murphy did not reference any direct links between the Walls’ legal battle and what police allege Elizabeth did.
Court documents obtained by PEOPLE detail the conflict before Jenna’s death, between her and her husband over custody – including that Jenna was accused of having an affair, which Jerrod’s attorney told PEOPLE she admitted to, and Jenna’s claim that Jerrod was badmouthing her to their children.
Jenna’s friends and coworkers have remembered her as a beloved teacher and denied the affair.
The Day of the Shooting
At Friday’s hearing, detective Murphy reiterated the basic allegations against Elizabeth:
Police say that on June 23, she allegedly went to the Atlanta area home of Jenna’s parents, where Jenna had been staying since filing for divorce from Jerrod in the fall. Police say Elizabeth had Jenna’s two sons in tow, brought over while they were staying with Jerrod.
With the kids sitting in a car outside the home, Elizabeth allegedly fired four times on Jenna, killing her in the kitchen, police say. Both boys, who are under the age of 10, later said they heard the gunfire.
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Jerrod found Elizabeth at the scene soon after and he disarmed her before she was arrested, police say. She’d allegedly called him from the home during the incident, telling him to come pick up his sons, which he found strange, police say.
Elizabeth was charged with murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and two counts of cruelty to children in the third-degree and has been held in the county jail without bond ever since.
‘God Have Mercy on Your Soul’
Murphy testified Friday that Elizabeth made very few statements upon being taken into custody, though he testified that she did say, “Just let me die, leave me alone and let me die. I want a lawyer. He’ll let me die.”
At other points, Murphy testified, Elizabeth sat with her head down, weeping.
Murphy testified to Elizabeth’s alleged Internet searches on the day she bought the gun that police believe was used to kill Jenna.
He said that she allegedly continued to make Internet searches from April to June that police believe are connected to the crime, including background information on Jenna and her family.
Murphy said Elizabeth’s last alleged search before the shooting was to look up the name of Jenna’s father.
Murphy also said it appeared Elizabeth had been targeting Jenna on Facebook with multiple derogatory or negative comments, according to interviews conducted during the investigation. Jenna subsequently shut down her Facebook, Murphy said.
He said police were still seeking a complete record of such alleged activity, but that police did recover two screenshots Jenna kept of Elizabeth’s alleged comments.
He read both in court. In one, Elizabeth allegedly wrote to Jenna on Facebook, “What God is saying and what you are hearing are two distinctly different things, which is proven by what you are doing. God have mercy on your soul.”
Elizabeth’s attorney, Jimmy Berry, requested she not be seen at Friday’s hearing and she was instead seated behind a partition near the galley, in view of only the judge and witnesses. Berry said he worried her condition was too fragile for public.
At one point, Elizabeth sat with her back to the courtroom, Murphy testified.
But Berry tells PEOPLE that Elizabeth is sorry for Jenna’s death. (She has not yet entered a plea to her charges.)
“Basically her feeling from the time that she’s been in there was that she wanted to die,” Berry says. “She did this to her family and she’s disappointed everybody.”
He says the defense is still gathering all of the information it needs and only learned of the alleged Internet searches in court.
But he says there is no confirmed context yet for those actions, and says that they are digging into Elizabeth’s psychological history.
Berry says Elizabeth was hospitalized for mental issues within the last several years and, at one point since her arrest, has been on suicide watch.
She had been seeing a psychiatrist, Berry says.
He says the next step in her case will be a grand jury hearing and if Elizabeth is indicted it could be around September.
“There’s not much question about who did it, it’s not one of those who-did-it? cases,” he says. “It’s: Why was it done? What happened with these folks that caused this?”