We are honored to have a guest entry by a loyal T&T reader, David From Tennessee.
On Saturday night, January 6, 2007, Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom 23, went on a date from which they would never return. The couple went to the Washington Ridge Apartments in Northeast Knoxville to meet friends. We can't be certain what time, but 2 armed men appeared and forced both into Channon's Toyota 4runner. They were taken to a house at 2316 Chipman St., about 3.5 miles away.
Channon and Chris lived in the West Knoxville suburbs some 20 miles from the apartment complex. Channon was a student at the University of Tennessee and had two jobs. Chris did construction work. My brother used to live in another apartment building 9.5 miles to the southwest of Washington Ridge and 3.46 (map quest for all mileage) miles southwest of the Chipman St. house. I visited my brother about 5 times a year in Knoxville until he relocated to Middle Tennessee 6 years ago. To me, Knoxville did not have a big city atmosphere as Nashville does. You did not feel that Knoxville was dangerous. I used to go out at night and come back to my brother's apartment very late. I was always careful, but it is easy to hide in corners and behind parked cars at an apartment building. Still, Knoxville did not seem dangerous.
Channon's father Gary testified at the trial on Monday that she called him on her cell phone about 12:30 AM that night, and told him she was going to see friends. She did not seem worried, but it appears a gun was being held on her by her abductors, but I'm not certain. When Channon and Chris (both lived at home) did not show the next day, their parents became worried. They went to Washington Ridge and found Chris Newsom's car, but Channon's 4Runner was gone. The police were called, but do not search for adults until 72 hours pass.
Gary Christian, his son Chase, and friends of Channon organized a search on Sunday. With the help of a cell phone tower, they found her 4Runner in a vacant lot near a railroad. That afternoon, a train's engineer saw something beside the track that looked like a mannequin. He stopped and saw that it was a badly burned body. The Knoxville police finally arrived. The SUV had been swiped down and old clothes that Channon was going to give to Goodwill were gone from the 4Runner. An envelope in the vehicle had a fingerprint that was run through the database. The print belonged to one Lemaricus Davidson who lived at nearby 2316 Chipman St.
When the police came to the house, it was abandoned. Inside, there was a large garbage can with a lid. Channon Christian's body was crammed inside (she was 5-8). She had been "hog-tied." Soon Davidson and his cohorts were rounded up. The other suspects were his half-brother Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas, and Vanessa Coleman, the only female.
After abducting the couple, all four, including Miss Coleman, engaged in an orgy of rape and violence. They anally gang-raped Mr. Newsom, and orally, anally, and vaginally gang-raped Channon Christian. They brutally beat both victims and poured cleaning fluid down Miss Christian's throat. They killed Mr. Newsom after dragging him to the railroad track and set his corpse on fire.
This has been called a "carjack gone awry," or "Channon and Chris were in the wrong place at the wrong time," and that the rapists poured cleaning fluid down Channon's throat to destroy DNA evidence. This appears wrong. The killers ditched her SUV, making no attempt to steal if for money. Also, they made no attempt to force the victims to withdraw money with ATM cards which often happens in a carjacking. It appears that it became a chance for a sadistic murderous orgy. The four suspects gave many of these details as they blamed each other. Another man, Eric Boyd, was involved, but there wasn't evidence to charge him with the murders. Boyd was convicted in Federal Court in April 2008 of accessory to carjacking.
These murders were heavily covered locally in Knoxville. It was a case of two attractive, likable young people with loving families and many friends being murdered in the most horrific way possible. The national media ignored it while paying enormous attention to the Duke Lacrosse Hoax and Anna Nicole Smith. There was a lot of notice from some Internet sites. Email correspondents of mine from California had never heard of this crime. The other issue was race. the 2 victims were white, the 4 suspects black. Many have said that if the races were reversed, everyone in the Unites States would have heard of Channon and Chris. Others think the crime is no big deal and have mocked the victims.
My own view is that this is the most important trial now going on. It shows that horrible things can happen to good people and that you should never allow a criminal to take you away in a vehicle. You must throw the keys in one direction and run in the other. Or try to fight as you have nothing to lose. Channon and Chris would have been better off if they had been shot dead in the parking lot. The murder of Lily Burk in Los Angeles recently is another example of a young girl being murdered after a carjacking.
After over two and a half years, the legal process is finally moving. In these murders, we know when and were it happened. We know who the murderers are and what they did. Despite this, winning convictions will not be easy. The reason is that Judge Richard Baumgartner severed the cases. There are 4 trials, one for each suspect. This makes conviction difficult despite the overwhelming evidence. Each defendant will blame everything on the other 3 who are not in the courtroom and claim "I didn't do nothing." In California, they would probably have been all tried together because of Proposition 115 which passed in 1990.
The judge also ruled that it could not be tried in Knox County because of the publicity. Instead, a jury from Davidson County (Nashville) has been bussed to Knoxville for the first trial, of Letalvis Cobbins, which began on Monday, August 17. The trial has been streamed live on the Knoxville TV stations and I have watched as much as possible over 6 days. It is very painful to watch. The torture Channon and Chris suffered was indescribable. Posters at other crime forums have written that these are the worst murders they have ever heard of.
Cobbins also has a court-appointed lawyer who is one of the top trial attorneys in Knoxville, Scott Green, who used to be the best prosecutor in the local DA's office. He is now a defense attorney and is more skilled than the two prosecutors, Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price. In his opening statement, Green told jurors his client was a coward and rapist, but not a killer. He pled Cobbins guilty to rape as his DNA was on Channon. Green hopes this will save him from the death penalty and maybe get a not guilty verdict on the murder charges. Green has often scored on cross-examination.
Cobbins gave 3 interviews to police and was caught in several lies. Once, he claimed his DNA would not be found, but it was. Each was played in court. Cobbins claimed he didn't know the carjacking would take place and that he was afraid of his half-brother, Davidson.
On Thursday, Jennifer Millsaps, who does forensics serology and DNA analysis for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified. On Christian's striped shirt, Millsaps said she found sperm from Cobbins on one of the stains. Millsaps said five stains were found on Christian's jeans; DNA from her, sperm from Davidson and Cobbins and there was blood.
There were stains with Cobbins' sperm on the leg of Christian's jeans, Millsaps said. She also found Christian's blood on the knee area and the back seat area. Millsaps said an oral swab taken from Christian came back with Cobbins' DNA on it. Swabs from her vagina and rectum matched Davidon's DNA. A rectal swab from Newsom showed semen, but Millsaps said she couldn't determine whose it was. This means that Channon Christian was gang-raped.
On Friday, the medical examiner, Dr. Darinka Mileusnik-Polchan testified on the torture the autopsies of the victims' bodies revealed. Chris Newsom's bare feet were bound and his body was burned. His family wept as the ME described his face wrapped in a sweatshirt with a hole showing in it where Newsom was shot in the head. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged with socks. Newsom was also shot in the upper shoulder near his neck and in the lower back. the bullet to the head was Newsom's cause of death. He was dead when he was set on fire.
The ME described bruising indicating that Newsom was raped with an object, probably hours before he was killed. What was done to Newsom was "too complex" to be done by one person, she said. He had no defensive wounds and was likely outnumbered and overpowered.
When Newsom's body was found, his mother wanted to see it. The police would not let her. She put her arms around the body bag.
Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that she went to the crime scene where Christian was found. The ME said Christian's body was "crammed" in five large trash bags in a trash can in the kitchen. She was bound so tightly her knees were touching her cheeks. Christian was alive when she was put in the trash can. "She died in the trash can," the ME testified. The cause was lack of oxygen.
Christian was wearing only a sweatshirt and camisole. The ME said that Christian wasn't strangled. She had a plastic bag over her head and her eyes were open. Her body had bruising and abrasions indicating rape with blunt trauma and an object. Some of the jurors grimaced at the photos.
"This was no simple rape," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said. It was much more severe. Christian was raped orally first and eventually wrapped in the trash bags and put in the can. She believes Christian died within 3 to 5 minutes after the bag was put over her head. The ME testified that more than one person was responsible for Christian's murder.
What this means is a gang-rape with all four of the suspects involved. This testimony is practically killing the parents. They are going to have to hear it at least 3 more times.
On Friday, the judge asked Cobbins if he wanted to waive his right to testify. With an arrogant smirk, he said, "I want to sleep on it."
On Saturday, over the strong objections of his attorneys, Cobbins took the stand. Green didn't ask questions. Cobbins just talked. He said that he didn't rape Channon Christian. She, he said, offered herself. "She asked if I let her go she do anything. She offered to have sex. She gave me oral sex."
At that statement, Christian's father stood up in the courtroom but his wife pulled him back down. Cobbins concedes he didn't help Christian escape. He didn't say why though he claims his brother threatened to shoot him.
Under cross by prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald, Cobbins said, "Looking back on it, it was probably against her will because of the situation she was in." By testifying, Cobbins pretty much destroyed the defense his attorney had built for him.
By the way, does anybody think Cobbins ever thought about helping Channon escape?
Takisha Fitgerald did well in her closing, I thought. The other prosecutor, Leland Price, did the final rebuttal capably. The facts are plain to anyone willing to look.
I followed the first Phil Spector trial on Court TV and the second on Sprocket's blog. The 6 days of this trial were harder to get through than both Spector trials combined. What Spector did to Lana Clarkson was horrible enough, but Lana died almost instantly. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom died in unspeakable agony over several hours.
The case against Letalvis Cobbins was given to the jury this afternoon. After a rest Sunday, deliberations will begin on Monday.
Thank you so much David, for taking the time to write a synopsis of the first of four murder trials. Sprocket