Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Christian-Newsom Torture-Murder Case: Motions For New Trials

Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom,
Wikipedia photo

GUEST ENTRY by David In Tennessee

On Friday, October 14, a hearing regarding motions for new trials for the four defendants convicted in the Christian-Newsom torture-murder case were held in Knoxville, Tennessee. This is my account of the previous hearing regarding Letalvis Cobbins, the first suspect to be tried. It has links to my article outlining the case and one on the verdict in Cobbins' trial.

Judge Sword, who has replaced Judge Richard Baumgatner, was on the bench doing Friday calendar work. It was mostly probationers with drug offenses. Judge Baumgartner who resigned earlier this year, was disbarred on Thursday after pleading guilty to buying prescription drugs (mainly painkillers) from a defendant who appeared in his court.

I saw three TV cameras set up in the back of the courtroom. At 9:50 am, I went out in the hallway. I saw the parents of the victims, Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. I went over to Chris' father, Hugh, and exchanged greetings. He told me the hearing was scheduled for 10 am. We went into the courtroom.

At 10 am, Judge Sword left and Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who has taken on former Judge Baumgartner's work, took the bench. The courtroom was tense because it was anticipated that the four convicted murderers were about to enter. For a minute, there was dead silence. Two of them, Cobbins and George Thomas, were brought into the courtroom. Both wore Knox County jail stripes. The other two, ringleader Lemaricus Davidson and Vanessa Coleman, did not appear.

Attorneys for all four defendants were present. They are seeking the overturn of the convictions in all four trials. This is standard procedure. Judge Baumgartner's troubles have made it very serious. The defense is claiming the judge was impaired during the trials, causing him to make bad decisions.

This is ironic. It was obvious that Baumgartner was trying above all to conduct the trials in such a fair way that the verdicts would stand up on appeal. This was the most horrific crime in memory for Tennessee. Who wants to hear the details again?

State prosecutors want to call to the stand Capital Case Attorney Susan Jones, who advised Baumgartner during the four trials, at upcoming hearings. They expect her to testify that Baumgartner's judgement was sound. However, Jones, through attorney Tom Scott, claims her dealings with Baumgarner were protected by attorney-client confidentiality.

However, prosecutor Leland Price argued the court was the client, not Baumgartner, and this argument should not apply.

Davidson's attorney, Doug Trant, then spoke. He told the court they don't need Jones' testimony. He said the files from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe of Baumgartner are enough to get a new trial (Story on

"The TBI files itself, the evidence is so overwhelming that there is structural error that the court cannot have confidence in that verdict," Trant said.

Channon Christian's father, Gary, spoke at a press conference following the hearing. He feels the defendants got fair trials and the evidence spoke for itself. "Judge Baumgartner, if he did anything, he leaned toward making sure their rights were sought after," Gary Christian said.

Even if the defense motions for new trials are denied, Gary says the battle is not over until Eric Boyd is prosecuted in state court. Boyd was convicted in federal court on lesser charges connected to the murders.

Judge Blackwood gave the state 15 days to outline the questions prosecutors would have for Susan Jones, reserving final judgement.

In still another development, Vanessa Coleman's lawyer's subpoenaed Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield to testify at a court hearing. The subpoena was served after the motions hearing.

Satterfield is compelled to testify at an evidentiary hearing, which is scheduled December 1-2, 2011. The subpoena does not specify the nature of her testimony. Satterfield has covered the case from the start and has said she plans to write a book on the Christian-Newsom torture murders.

Presumably, the December hearing would have testimony from both Jones and Satterfield.

My brother is an attorney. He told me the appellate courts will decide on Judge Baumgartner's rulings by their legal merits. If they were sound, the verdicts will stand.

For this article, I used the notes I took in the courtroom. I also referenced reports from the Knoxville News Sentinel, and WATE, WBIR, and WATE TV stations.