Friday, September 17, 2010

Vanessa Coleman Sentencing by David in Tennessee

This is a very belated guest entry from David in Tennessee. My apologies to David for not posting it in a timely manner. David was in the courtroom and this is his first person account. Sprocket

Vanessa Coleman Sentenced to 53 Years In Christian-Newsom Torture-Murders

David In Tennessee

The last of four suspects, and the only female, Vanessa Coleman, was sentenced to 53 years in prison on July 30 for her role in the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. This is Knox News reporter Jamie Satterfield's story on the hearing. It has several links, including all of the stories she has written on the case, as well as videos. Here is the account by WBIR. It has several videos.

This is my story about attending three days of Coleman's trial. The jury acquitted Coleman of dozens of charges, including any involvement regarding Christopher Newsom and of Channon Christian's rape and murder. She was convicted of 17 counts of facilitation in crimes against Channon Christian, including facilitation of felony murder and facilitation of aggravated rape.

The jury, in effect, bought the defense argument that Newsom was murdered somewhere else and Coleman didn't see it. Lavitt claimed that law enforcement tricked "this little girl." Some jurors, by their questions, which Tennessee allows, wanted to blame Daphne Sutton, ex-girlfriend of ringleader, Lemaricus Davidson. During deliberations, a juror asked the court to define the word "perpetration."

My own personal opinion, from observing the jury in person for three days, hearing their questions, and the eventual verdict, is that the verdict was a compromise. I may be wrong, but I think some jurors wanted to acquit Coleman of every charge and turn her loose, while other wanted to convict on the main charges regarding Channon Christian. They compromised and went back to Nashville. Judge Richard Baumgartner decided on a jury from Davidson County, rather than Knox County. He did the same with Letalvis Cobbins, the first suspect tried ( This is the first story I wrote about the case. It outlines the case and describes the first trial.

I was aware the hearing was scheduled for 11 am, but entered the courtroom at 9. I saw Judge Baumgartner conduct his Friday docket, mostly probation hearings, mostly drug offenders. The judge would munch on snickers and called a break when he wanted to go to the smoking area. Three TV cameras were set up by 10:15. The judge called a break at 10:50. Outside, I spoke briefly with Hugh Newsom, Chris' father. Deputy DA Leland Price came over and told Hugh the hearing would start at 11 and the docket was cleared.

Vanessa Coleman was brought in wearing a red jailhouse jumpsuit. There were motions for retrials of the other convicted suspects. They will be heard next year.

Deena Christian then was called to the stand to give her impact statement. She said, "You call yourself a victim. I think not." Deena scoffed as she quoted Coleman's journal entry: "Lets talk about adventure. I've had one hell of an adventure since I've been in the big Tennessee."

Gary Christian followed his wife to the stand. "Young lady, you are pure evil," he told her looking directly at her. The Newsom's could not make an impact statement because Coleman was found not guilty of every charge concerning their son.

Coleman's defense attorney, Theodore Lavitt, still insisted his client was innocent and asked for a sentence of 14 years with early chance for parole. Lavitt argued that Coleman should receive mitigation because she lacked a prior criminal record. Deputy DA, Leland Price, asked for the sentences to be consecutive, rather than concurrent, which would add up to 77 years. There was also the heinous nature of the crime be taken into account.

After hearing the respective arguments, detailed above, Judge Baumgartner told the court his decision.

Prosecutors asked for 77 years. The defense asked that the sentences by concurrent. The prosecution asked that they be consecutive. The judge ruled 53 years and made them consecutive:

25 years for Facilitation of Premeditated Murder of Christian
12 years for Facilitation of Especially Aggravated Kidnapping of Christian accomplished with deadly weapons
12 years for Facilitation of Aggravated Anal, Oral, and Vaginal Rape of Christian
4 years for Facilitation of Theft from Christian

I, and everyone with whom I have discussed the case, believe it was Coleman who kicked and beat Channon Christian's vaginal area. It was anger over her boyfriend, Cobbins, raping Channon.

"In my judgement, she substantially assisted in the assaults and rapes," Judge Baumgartner said. He also said he believed Coleman knew what was happening to the victims because Christian was tortured, raped, and murdered in an 800 square foot home on Chipman Street in East Knoxville.

The judge said Coleman was a street-smart 18-year old drug user when the crimes happened and he didn't think her youth mitigated her sentence. Interestingly, the judge said the jury had given mitigation in their verdict.

"I don't think she was under duress," the judge said or dominated by her co-defendants. The judge also said a message should be sent that those who hang around bad people will get into big trouble.

Vanessa Coleman declined to speak. The Newsom's said they would have liked to hear an apology. The Christians said they would have walked out.

Before the hearing, Vanessa Coleman was interviewed by a probation officer and said she fell under a bad influence. "She said she was influenced by bad guys," the pre-sentence report states. This is different from what she said to her parents, lawyers, and police. When she left the courtroom, Vanessa Coleman smiled and winked at her family.

After the hearing, numerous local reporters were interviewing the Christians and Newsom's. I stood nearby when a reporter asked Mary Newsom if the four trials had brought closure, a question that comes in every high-profile murder trial. Mary patiently answered this and the other questions. I then wished Hugh and Mary all my best and left the courthouse.

It may not be over. It appears there are two more individuals who took part. Two unidentified sperm samples were found on Channon Christian's undergarments in a last test for DNA in 2009. It belonged to none of the suspects or their known friends, as well as not matching Chris Newsom. This news was in an October 9, 2009 article in the Knoxville News-Sentinel by Jamie Satterfield. She has done a great job in covering this case. There may be more trials in the Christian-Newsom Torture-Murder case.

Another source for this article is WATE. I also used my notes.


Karen C. said...

Does 53 years MEAN 53 years? Thank you so much for this update. I always wondered which of these viscous perps was the one who did the kicking part- horrible, horrible. And she made it sound like a youthful lark, like a field trip, in her journal...

Anonymous said...

Whether 53 years means 53 years remains to be seen. Coleman will come up for parole in about 4 years and again every few years afterward. The parole hearing will get some attention as Channon Christian's parents will speak against Coleman's release.

As I wrote in my accounts of the trials, the legal team for each suspect blamed the others, and brought Daphne Sutton's name in as much as possible. This made each trial a battle.

The suspects' police statements were extremely vague in each case. None of them admitted to even witnessing most of the torture inflicted on the victims.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

Correction. Vanessa Coleman will come up for parole after serving "roughly a third of that term," according to Jamie Satterfield's July 30 Knox News article.

A third would be about 15 years and Coleman gets credit for 3 years in the Knox County jail awaiting trial. This means she will get a parole hearing after 11-12 years which is still somewhat less than 53. I apologize for my error.

David In TN

prison rights said...

I very much doubt that 53 years will mean 53 years in the end.

Mortons Solicitors said...

Hopefully it will mean 53 years or until she leaves this world behind.

Not like the sentences over in the UK

Anonymous said...

This is so disturbing. They do not seem remorseful for their actions at all. They're only concerned with themselves as they were when all of this occurred. Some of them will live out their lives in jail for being complete idiots! Uh...Vanessa deserves time, she did nothing. And if she was so afraid why did you go back to KY and continue to hang out with her boyfriend. They all seem very detached from the real world and do not comprehend the capacity of their crimes. Senseless, IGNORANT crime of two very young college kids committed by these beings. Oh my this hurts. And yes this was a HATE crime (signed African American female)