Saturday, October 31, 2009

Death Sentence in Christian-Newsom Torture-Murder Trial


On Wednesday, October 28, 2009, Lemaricus Davidson was found guilty of the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Davidson was considered the ringleader of the 5 individuals who have been charged. Eric Boyd was convicted in ferderal court of accesory to carjacking in 2008 and sentenced to 18 years. Davidson's half-brother, Letalvis Cobbins, was convicted of the murder of Channon Christian last August and sentenced to life without parole. 

Davidson was defended by two prominent Knoxville attorneys appointed by the court, Doug Trant and David Eldridge. Surprisingly, Davidson insisted on a Knox County jury, despite advice to the contrary from Judge Richard Baumgartner. His attorneys agreed with their client. Opinion was running high against the defendant. Why did he and his lawyers not want an outside jury? The answer seems to be in the tactics employed. The defense was to smear the two victims. There is no other word for it. They thought this would change the perception of the case. 

Here is my outline of the case written in August. The accepted story was that Christian and Newsom were carjacked by a gang led by Davidson. Cobbins testified in his trial to taking part in the carjacking which brought the victims to Davidson's house on Chripman Street. In his police interview, Davidson admitted the pair was brought to his house at gunpoint, but claimed he wasn't involved, and had never seen the couple before. He also said his DNA would not be on Channon Christian. It was. 

At the trial, attorneys Trant and Eldridge claimed that Christian and Newsom were out looking to buy drugs and came to the Chipman Street house voluntarily. Some druggie friends of Davidson provided dubious testimony of seeing the victims in the area. This is recounted here. This put the prosecution on the defensive for part of the trial. Marijuana was found in Newsom's truck and a small amount in his toxicology report. Christian's toxicology report showed her clean of drugs, and she had passed several drug screens for employment.

There was no credible evidence that the victims had ever met Davidson. Cell phone records showed neither had ever made or received calls from the defendant. The defense claimed that Davidson's DNA was on Channon Christian because of "consensual sex," after which Davidson went on his dope selling run while the other members of the gang killed the couple. 

Channon Christian's injuries were recounted by the medical examiner. She was found in a trash can in the kitchen wrapped in five garbage bags. She was bound so tightly her knees were touching her cheeks. Christian was alive when placed in the trash can and died of suffocation. She had a plastic bag over her head. Her body had brusing and abrasions indicating rape with blunt trauma and an object. Davidson's sperm was in both Christian's vaginal and anal region. Cobbins sperm was in her mouth and vagina. Her vaginal area had been kicked or beaten bloody. 

Does this sound like consensual sex?

Chris Newsom, according to the ME, was raped with an object hours before he was killed. His bare feet were bound and he had been led or dragged to the railroad track. Newsom's face was wrapped in a sweatshirt with a hole showing in it where he was shot in the head. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged with socks. Newsom's was shot three times, the third to the head caused death. He was dead when set on fire at the railroad track. 

When Newsom's body was found, his mother, a genteel lady, wanted to see it. The police would not let her. She put her arms around the body bag.

This is only a brief account of what was done to the victims. The first time I watched the ME's testimony on the live stream, I cried. The second time, I was in a cold rage.

In most murder trials, the prosecution puts it together in the closing argument. The lead prosecutor, Takisha Fitzgerald (TK), did exactly that. She spoke to the jurors for over an hour Monday without notes making a passionate call for justice. TK framed it by playing Davidson's own police statement in which he admits the couple was brought to his house. She questioned his motive for sullying the couple's reputation. TK described the horrors the couple suffered. "The only thing that matters is giving these two kids justice," Fitzgerald said.  

The jury found Davidson guilty of both murders. At the sentencing phase, the defense brought in a series of social workers who tried to help Davidson. He had received chance after chance to change his life but went back to crime each time. In 2001, Davidson was convicted of carjacking and was paroled in 2006. His former foster parents (white incidentally) testified at the hearing and offered him a job in New Orleans rebuilding after Katrina. Instead, Davidson went to Knoxville to sell drugs and commit robberies. In January 2007, the murders of Channon and Chris occured. There was no objective reason for mitigation. On Friday, the jury of 7 men and 5 women voted for death. One of the men was black, normal for a Knox County jury. 

"The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel," the foreman said, reading the verdict form for Newsom. The same was said regarding the murder of Christian.

Davidson was taken to death row at Riverbend in Nashville Tennessee. 

In my first article on this case, I wrote that the 6 days of the Cobbins trial was harder to get through than both Spector trials combined. The Davidson trial was even worse. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were good and decent young people with a promising future who died in unspeakable agony.
Here is a complete archive of articles by the Knoxville News Sentinel.

A professional writer needs to write a book about the case to do this story justice. This is the best I can do. 

David From Tennessee

Thank you David for your excellent coverage of this horrific case.  I know it has been very emotionally draining for you to write about the trials and T&T is greatly appreciative of your efforts. Sprocket.


katfish said...

David, You have done a great job of covering this case. I could not bring myself to watch this trial, so I really counted on your reports. There will come a day that justice will be done for Channon and Christopher! I wish this journey through the legal process could be done for their families but there will be 2 more to stand trial....correct? Not to mention appeals.....

Anonymous said...


The next trial is of one George Thomas, a friend of Cobbins who was visiting. Jury selection starts the middle of November with the trial beginning the first week of December. The other suspect, a female who was doing the cooking, doesn't have a trial date.

I just checked the Knoxville News Sentinel comment boards and saw something revealing from reporter Jamie Satterfield. She wrote that it was Davidson's idea to claim the victims came voluntarily to his house to buy drugs and his attorneys dutifully used that defense. This means the verdict can't be appealed on the grounds of defense strategy since it was the defendant's own strategy according to Satterfield.

David From TN

donchais said...

David, you did an a great job for Channon, Chris and their families. I agree, this was the most difficult trial I have ever followed - I cried every day.

How those families held it together is beyond me. While Gary's anger and rage is actually palpable, he managed to honor the kids with his restraint.

And, thank God the Senator got involved and that pos Cobbins is being moved out of moderate security into maximum. WTH was up with that?

Trapellar said...

Great job, David from Tennessee

Anonymous said...


You ask why Cobbins was in a medium-security prison? The answer seems to be that the authorities didn't seem to know what kind of murder he had been convicted for. At the Hardeman county prison, Cobbins asked to be in protective custody because he felt his life was in danger. Isn't that ironic?

My understanding is that in maximum-security, he will be in a cell 23 out of 24 hours every day for life. At medium-security, Cobbins would have been able to mow the yard and walk around outside.

Did you know that at least one of the Manson girls almost got paroled around 1978? Prosecutor Steven Kay went before the parole board and reminded them what the Manson gang had done. The authorities had already forgotten (or never knew) about it and were about to release Patricia Krenwinkle. (Source: "The D.A.," 1996)

My impression is that the authorities in Nashville did not even know about this case.

David From TN

donchais said...

David, that is way too scary - authorities in TN are not aware of the "kind" of murder he was convicted for? Call me crazy, murder is murder!

It was painful to see the parents on camera voicing their disbelief at where Cobbins was incarcerated! Thank God the Senator was also watching TV that day!

Again, thank you for your coverage!

Karen said...

David- you are so brave to even enter through that door every day, I would need serious therapy after that myself.
Regarding the asinine strategy employed, even if the perp wanted to go that route, were his attorneys so obligated to follow him there? 'Cuz, personally, I think that the good folks of that area should run them right out on a rail for defaming these 2 victims. I wouldn't share an elevator with any of them for that- let alone consider calling that law firm for anything. I wonder what the fall-out will be for them (Trant, etc.) for that. Their client is purely evil- what could be their excuse? Are attorneys never allowed to consult their own conscience on this point? I suppose the only upshot is that it wouldn't be appealable, but, let's face it, they re-raped the victims, especially poor Channon...

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for the updates. I thought Corbbin was still in the medium security prison. Does anyone know the name of the Senator that got this POS sent to a maximum security facility? He deserves some recognition and a big thank you from the citizens of Tenn.....heck all of us should thank telling where this monster would have run to had he escaped.
Honestly Dave you left me speechless when you said the prison authorities didn't know the details of the murders. How can you make such important decisions with so little information? Tenn needs to look at their intake and assessment process.

September moo

Tezi said...

Thank you for covering this story. This was one of the most horrific crimes I have ever followed.

It's a pity Davidson wouldn't turn his life around, he could have made something of himself.

I hope Chris and Channon's families will find some measure of peace, at least until the next trial.

Anonymous said...

It was State Senator Tim Burchett who made the call to state authorities. This won some future elections for him.

The prison authorities made excuses for putting Cobbins in a medium security prison in the usual vague, bureaucratic language. They switched Cobbins to maximum security to avoid public ridicule, which is what it usually takes.

One of the surprises of the trial was how many chances Davidson had been given and the number of people who tried to help him. He was even placed in a private Baptist school where he played football. The coach of the famed University of Tennessee football team took an interest in him. What did Davidson do? He went out and committed armed robbery.

Five months after being paroled for carjacking in 2006, he was the ringleader in the most horrific murders in Knoxville history.

This is why the jury rendered a sentence of death.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

Tennessee Corrections Commissioner George Little said after transferring Letalvis Cobbins, convicted killer of Channon Christian, to maximum-security housing at a West Tennessee prison, that giving other convicted murderers the same treatment would cost "millions of dollars."

State Sen. Tim Burchett called Little on Friday after speaking to the father of murder victim Channon Christian.

Little said that the call from Burchett and "more importantly, the concerns of the victim's family" relayed by the senator, were a factor in the relocation.

Having Cobbins in maximum-security was also because he had "protective custody" status because of death threats against him, the commissioner said. Relocation was already being considered.

"We look at the offender and not the offense," Little said. "When you seek to lock in offenders in terms of classification, it really begins to create artificial restraints on how you handle inmates."

At his August trial, Cobbins admitted on the stand to raping Channon Christian. He said, "She offered me oral sex."

The autopsy revealed that Channon's lip had been torn from her gum.

David From TN

marinaz said...

I'm a little late coming into this discussion but I had not heard of this case until I saw a "48 Hours ID" and then did some research on the internet.

I've read some pretty horrific cases before, but for the life of me I cannot fathom how it is that carjacking can lead to such heinous torture of two innocent kids. What is it in human nature that there seems to be no conscience for inflicting such terror and harm to people? How is that line crossed?

Vanessa Coleman hd to have known what was happening and had so many opportunities to call the authorities and never did. She never offered that poor girl food and claimed she never screamed. I can only conclude that she felt that Channon deserved it. Well, Vanessa deserves to be in prison for the rest of her life and shame on her parents. I don't know how they can look at themselves in the mirror for even pretending that these kids had any part in their murders. Thank you for this blog, it is well written, well researched and I am grateful you have taken their case. You're a voice for these families.