Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Christian-Newsom Torture Murder Case: Third Trial Set to Begin


A jury was selected this week for the trial of George Thomas, the third suspect to be tried in the Christian-Newsom torture-murder case. Because of extensive publicity in Knoxville, Tennessee, the jury was chosen in Chattanooga and will be taken by bus to Knoxville and sequestered in a hotel. Opening statements are set for December 1.
The jury was originally made up of 5 white men, 5 white women, 1 black woman, and 1 black man. However, the black man was excused when he revealed that his sister had been murdered. He was replaced by a white woman. The defense agreed to this man being excused.
Here is my outline of the case and account of the first trial of Letalvis Cobbins, who was convicted in August and sentenced to life without parole. His half-brother, Lemaricus Davidson, is considered the ringleader and was convicted in October and sentenced to death.

The trial of George Thomas will be different from the first two and is the toughest yet for the prosecution. There is no forensic evidence linking Thomas to the crimes. No DNA links Thomas to the victims. Cobbins, in his police interview, said that Thomas shot Newsom. This will not come into the upcoming trial. This means there will be no eyewitness or forensic proof pointing to Thomas.

There is, however, evidence placing Thomas inside Davidson's house at the time of the abduction. Davidson's ex-girlfriend has testified three times that she saw Thomas in the house after Newsom's death and at a time when Christian is believed to have been held alive in a bathroom or dying inside the trash can. Thomas, in his police interview, admitted to being in the Chipman Street house during at least part of the crime spree, and supposedly told of riding around in Christian's SUV.

The prosecution will attempt to label Thomas criminally responsible for the January 2007 murders regardless of whether he did either himself. Lead prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald said of a legal provision known as criminal responsibility, "That's what this case is all about." In the state of Tennessee, if you are present while a murder is taking place, you are responsible if you do not report it or try to stop it.

A hearing took place on Friday which had some potentially explosive developments. Knox County Sheriff's Detective Nevil Norman testified that Thomas told him "**** that white girl, she don't mean nothin' to me. You cops come into my neighborhood and kill us. Why should I get involved in something that is none of my business."

Norman said the comment came after he had turned off the tape recorder he had been using to interrogate Thomas. After the interview was over, Norman said he asked Thomas if he should have called someone about what was going on in the Chipman Street house where Christian and Newsom were held hostage before they were killed and Thomas gave that statement in reply.

Newman said he was "shocked" by the statement but did not write it down for 17 months when he met with prosecutors and revealed the alleged statement to them. Prosecutor Leland Price asked him to write a memo about the statement. The memo was dated June 24, 2008.

The defense counsels, Tom Dillard and Steve Johnson, questioned why Norman failed to document such a shocking statement. Norman answered that there was "so much other stuff in this case we were trying to get organized I just didn't write it down."

The defense attorneys are asking Judge Richard Baumgartner to keep jurors from hearing the statement. Dillard said that it is irrelevant and not an admission of guilt. The defense also accused the prosecution of "playing the race card." Price argued that the statement showed Thomas' motive in being involved in the crime spree. The judge said he will rule in the coming days.

Prosecutors also said Friday they want to introduce a phone call between Thomas and his then girlfriend, Stacy Lawson, into evidence. In the call, Lawson asked where Christian was being kept that weekend. Thomas said she was kept in Davidson's room. Lawson then asked why Thomas didn't call the police and said the victims didn't deserve what was done to them. Thomas replied, "Should have, would have, could have."

Prosecutors said Thomas' comment shows that he knew about the murders and did nothing. Thomas benefited from the crimes by driving Christian's Toyota 4Runner, prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald argued.

"All Channon is to Thomas is an SUV," Fitzgerald said. "We are not trying to bring race into this but these are the facts."

Judge Baumgartner said Friday was the first time he heard about the phone call. He will rule on whether he will allow the phone call or the comment by Thomas in the trial.

The main source for the above is the Knoxville News-Sentinel. The source for the testimony about the phone call was the Knoxville TV station WATE.

David From Tennessee

Thank you so much David, for all your hard work in covering this horrific case. Sprocket.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update Dave. This really is going to be a different trial. Has Thomas been in jail while awaiting trial? Criminal responsibility is what this is all about.
Do you know if WBIR is going to stream this trial?

September MOO

Anonymous said...

Yes, Thomas has been in jail awaiting trial. His attorneys have kept him out of sight as much as possible by not having him attend many hearings the last two years.

Thomas was a friend of Letalvis Cobbins, who was convicted in August. This is why Thomas was present in the Chipman Street house.

WBIR will stream the trial again. If you go to the WBIR site, you will find a new half-hour documentary on the case.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

The final pre-trial hearing took place today in the trial of George Thomas for the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Letalvis Cobbins was convicted in August and sentenced to life without parole. Cobbins' half-brother, Lemaricus Davidson, was convicted in October and sentenced to death.

Judge Richard Baumgartner ruled the "racially charged" comment by Thomas to a detective will be allowed in trial.

The judge ruled that a computer search by Thomas in Kentucky will not be allowed. The homeowner will be allowed to testify about the computer.

The judge ruled that letters from Thomas to Cobbins will not be allowed. An officer will be allowed to testify that Thomas wrote letters and signed them, "United Together Forever."

Judge Baumgartner will allow a phone call Thomas made to his girlfriend, Stacey Lawson, to be used in the trial.

In the call, Lawson asked where Christian was kept in the house. Thomas said she was kept in Davidson's room. Lawson asked why Thomas didn't call the police. he answered, "Should have, would have, could have."

The trial begins Tuesday, December 1. The source for the above information is the site for WATE Knoxville.

David From TN