Guest Entry from David in Tennessee!
The trials for the torture-murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom are over. There were four, one for each suspect. There was a fifth in 2008 of Eric Boyd in Federal Court for accessory to carjacking. Boyd was convicted and sentenced to 18 years for assisting the ringleader, Lemaricus Davidson, to escape.
The first trial saw Davidson's half-brother, Letalvis Cobbins, convicted of the rape and murder of Channon Christian and facilitation of the murder of Christopher Newsom. Cobbins was sentenced to life without parole. Here is my account of the Cobbins trial, along with an outline of the case. It includes the medical examiner's testimony.
The second trial resulted in the conviction of Lemaricus Davidson for both murders. He was sentenced to death. Davidson will be sentenced on the remaining charges on June 11.
In the third trial, George Thomas was convicted on all counts and was sentenced to life without parole.
In the last trial, Vanessa Coleman, the only female suspect, was found not guilty of both murders and of all charges relating to Newsom. Coleman was convicted of facilitating the first degree murder, kidnapping, rape, and theft of Channon Christian. The sentencing hearing for Coleman will be held on July 30.
I attended two and a half days of Coleman's trial. This is my account. There were some things I didn't write while the trial was still going on. My account of what I saw is from notes I took at the time.
The jury, as I wrote, looked unemotional, but their questions were revealing. Once, after defense attorney Theodore Lavitt finished a cross examination in which he yelled at the witness, several jurors were eager to ask questions. I saw one of them practically throw the question at the judge. The questions asked indicated an obsession with Daphne Sutton being "let off' and the thought that the authorities tricked and cheated Coleman. This is just what the defense was implying.
At noon on Thursday, I went to a coffee shop on the same floor as the courtroom for lunch. Standing in line, the entire defense team was standing behind me. The lead defense attorney. Mr. Lavitt, was right next to me. They were discussing trial strategy and didn't seem to care if anyone heard them (this was true of everybody). I couldn't keep from hearing what Lavitt said. He was saying (I thought) that the journal could hurt but Coleman's letters to her parents were "all right." Lavitt spoke in a clinical way, unlike how he sounded when cross examining.
On Wednesday, I heard someone give a pungent opinion of Lavitt's cross examination. He described it as like "watching a dead snail crawl down the aisle."
When the journal entry about Vanessa's "HELL OF AN ADVENTURE in the big T.N." was read on Friday afternoon, Lavitt looked beaten to me. I forgot to check the jury's reaction but they had no questions, for about the first time all day. It now appears by the verdict that most jurors paid no attention to the journal.
A woman sat next to me on Thursday and Friday. On Friday, she asked me if the medical examiner would testify that day. I answered that Lavitt's cross examinations had taken so long that she would not. The woman looked relieved and said, "I'm glad I won't have to watch it." We knew about the testimony the ME was going to give, along with the gruesome photos. On Monday, I watched the live stream of the medical examiner's testimony. Once, the camera panned over the audience. Sure enough, the woman I talked to was in the same seat as on Friday, watching the same testimony.
The key to how the trials went was each suspect having a separate trial. This enabled each suspect to blame it on the others. Cobbins blamed Davidson. Davidson blamed Cobbins. Thomas claimed to have been stoned. Coleman said she was a victim held against her will and the jury found her guilty of facilitation only.
The victims' families had to sit through five trials (counting Eric Boyd's federal trial) and hear the horrible details and see the awful photos. In Davidson's trial, the defense attorneys said that Channon and Chris came to the Chipman Street house voluntarily to buy drugs. They also said that Channon had "consensual sex" with Davidson.
The suspects had the best defense attorneys in Knoxville appointed to represent them free of charge. Theodore Lavitt is a Kentucky attorney hired by Coleman's parents. When their money ran low, Lavitt was paid by the state of Tennessee.
A few months ago, I reread Vincent Bugliosi's book on the Charles Manson case, "Helter Skelter." Former Los Angeles prosecutor Walt Lewis, author of "The Criminal Justice Club (a book I recommend to T&T readers)," told me by email that the Christian-Newsom case was about the worst he had heard of since the Tate-Labianca murders.
A big difference is that Manson, Krenwinkel, Atkins, and Van Houten were all tried together. This was Manson's idea. Tex Watson was tried and convicted separately, but would have been tried with the others if not for his family's political influence which delayed his extradition from Texas.
If we didn't already know it, the Christian-Newsom trials have shown that there is no slam dunk in a murder trial.
Donchais did an outstanding job covering the Coleman trial on her blog. Jamie Satterfield's articles at the Knoxville News Sentinel can be found at this archive.