Friday, November 9, 2012

Christian-Newsom Murders: Jury Selected in Vanessa Coleman's Retrial

 Vanessa Coleman, center, at jury selection for her new trial.


Jury selection took place Friday for the upcoming retrial of Vanessa Coleman in the torture-murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

I followed Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamie Satterfield's tweets from the courtroom.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood started the proceedings with a speech on the civic responsibility of jury duty. The majority of prospective jurors ignored the speech and asked to be excused for hardship.

The jury pool is from Jackson, Tennessee in Madison County. Jackson is in West Tennessee, some 300 miles from Knoxville. Being on this jury means spending a week away from job and family. Blackwood ruled the jury must come from West Tennessee because of the extensive publicity the case has received.

Once, Vanessa Coleman gave Jamie Satterfield a mean look, according to a tweet by Ms. Satterfield.

The final panel of 12 jurors consisted of four black women, three black men, two white women, and three white men. Six alternates were picked. These are three white women, one white man, one black woman, and one black man.

Although the jury is majority black by seven to five, Coleman's defense attorney, Ted Lavit, accused the prosecution of bouncing blacks from the jury pool. Lavit made a "Batson challenge," accusing the state of excluding jurors for race alone.

Prosecutors Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price used seven out of eight peremptory challenges to exclude blacks but argued that each of them had a criminal record.

Judge Blackwood rejected Lavit's argument.

The panel chosen Friday will travel by bus to Knoxville on Monday and will be sequestered in a hotel.

Few potential jurors admitted to knowing about the case. One had seen the Nancy Grace program on the Christian-Newsom case the night before.

Following jury selection, Lavit again tried to prevent the panel from hearing anything about Christopher Newsom's death. Coleman was acquitted of all charges regarding Newsom's rape and murder and cannot be tried again on those counts. She is being tried for facilitation only in the crimes against Channon Christian because that was what she was convicted of in the first trial.

Blackwood ruled that one facilitation of felony murder charge against Coleman alleges Christian was killed during the kidnapping of Newsom. The state will be allowed to present evidence Newsom was carjacked and kidnapped.

"Mr. Newsom then falls away (from the state's case)," Blackwood said.

Opening statements are set for Tuesday, November 13. video