On Saturday night, January 6, 2007, Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, were carjacked from the Washington Ridge Apartments in Knoxville, Tennessee. They were taken to a house on Chipman Street about three and a half miles away.
Over the next several hours, Christian and Newsom were both raped, tortured, and murdered. Chris Newsom was dragged by a dog leash around his neck to a railroad track several hundred yards from the Chipman Street house. He was naked from the waist down and his hands were tied behind his back. Chris' face was wrapped in a sweatshirt and his mouth was gagged with his own socks, His bare feet were bound. He had been raped with "an object." and by unknown males. At the track, Newsom was shot three times, only the last was fatal. His body was set on fire, which destroyed the DNA evidence and made it impossible to identify which of the killers raped him.
Mary Newsom, Chris' mother, wanted to see the body. The police would not let her. She put her arms around the body bag.
Channon Christian's body was found in the house of Lemaricus Davidson, who is considered the ringleader of those involved. The five feet, eight inches tall Channon Christian was "crammed," according to the medical examiner in a garbage can. She was "hog-tied" with a plastic bag over her head. DNA evidence showed she had been raped vaginally and anally. Semen from Davidson's half-brother was found in her mouth. Her vaginal area had been beaten bloody, either kicked or by something used as a club. Bleach had been sprayed down her throat in an attempt to destroy DNA.
Channon Christian's Toyota 4Runner was found abandoned in the general area. It had been wiped down. However, an envelope was found with a fingerprint. When run through the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) database, it belonged to Davidson. This broke the case.
Without this one fingerprint, the murders might be unsolved to this day.
Four people were arrested for the torture-murders. They were Davidson, his half-brother Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas, and Vanessa Coleman, the lone female defendant. A fifth, Eric Boyd, was charged in federal court as an accessory for aiding Davidson after the crime.
According to Cobbins, Boyd provided the vehicle and took part in the carjacking. Boyd was not charged in the murders because he could not be placed in the Chipman Street house.
The crime was called a "robbery" and a "random" event. However, the only things stolen were items in Channon's purse which were found in Coleman's possession. The Toyota was not kept even though it had a market value of $15,000 according to Channon's father, Gary Christian, who worked at a Toyota dealership. Nor did they try to ransom the victims whom the perpetrators thought were rich.
Here is Knoxville News Sentinel reporter Jamis Satterfield's account of what she thinks happened on Chipman Street. Satterfield believes Boyd raped Chris and that Coleman beat Channon's private parts. I agree with her on these points. I disagree when she writes of it as a "random carjacking." "Random" means it was accidental. The whole affair was very deliberate and as mentioned above, the car was not kept by the killers.
Eric Boyd was convicted in 2008 as an accessory and sentenced to 18 years in federal prison.
Cobbins was convicted in August of 2009 and sentenced to life without parole. Davidson was convicted on October 28, 2009 and sentenced to death. Also in 2009, George Thomas was convicted and sentenced to life without parole.
In 2010, Vanessa Coleman was acquitted of all charges regarding Christopher Newsom and of Channon Christian's murder. She was convicted of 17 facilitation charges against Christian and sentenced to 53 years.
I was in the courtroom for three days of Vanessa Coleman's trial. It seemed to me that some of the female jurors felt sorry for Coleman. At the time, jurors were allowed to ask questions and I saw some pro-defense questions during police testimony. Coleman kept a journal and had some entries for the weekend of the murders. She wrote in part:
"Lets talk about adventures! I've had one HELL OF AN ADVENTURE since I've been in the big T.N.HA! HA!"
The jurors had no questions about Coleman's diary.
In 2011, it was revealed that Richard Baumgartner, who presided over all four state trials, had been using illegal prescription drugs obtained from a probationer in his own court. He had used drugs during the Christian-Newsom trials.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who replaced Baumgartner, overturned all four verdicts and said they must be retried.
The Knoxville District Attorney General appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court and another judge, Walter Kurtz, ruled the Davidson and Cobbins verdicts would stand because of the DNA evidence. Also, Cobbins had testified. Judge Kurtz ordered new a new trial for George Thomas.
The retrial for Coleman had not been contested and took place in November of 2012 with Blackwood presiding. This time Coleman was convicted on 13 of 17 counts and was sentenced to 35 years in prison, somewhat less than the first time.
She will be up for parole around five years from now.
George Thomas was convicted for a second time on May 17, 2013. This time Thomas received a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. By law, he must serve at least 51 years.
For the parents of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the second Thomas verdict made seven trials and over 300 court appearances.
Let us hope the case is over.
David in TN
David in TN