Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Christian Newsom Murders: Parents Speak Before Tennessee Senate Judicary Committee

Parents of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom Speak Before Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee by David In TN

On Tuesday, February 11, the parents of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom traveled to Nashville and appeared before the Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee unanimously approved two bills they said can ease some of the heartbreak they suffered in the Tennessee judicial system.
On Saturday night, January 6, 2007, Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, were carjacked, tortured, and murdered. 

Four suspects, Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, and Vanessa Coleman, were convicted during 2009-10. Cobbins received a sentence of life without parole. Davidson was sentenced to death. Thomas received life without parole and Coleman was convicted of facilitation of the crimes against Channon Christian for a sentence of 53 years.

George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman each received a second trial.  Thomas was convicted again, but his sentence was life with the possibility of parole after 50 years. Coleman was convicted on 13 counts, down from 17 in her first trial, resulting in a sentence of 35 years, down from 53.

I attended three of the seven trials in the Christian-Newsom case, two sentencing hearings, and one motions hearing. I spoke several times to Hugh Newsom, father of Chris, and heard Gary Christian make several comments during breaks in trial. 

The parents were unhappy with some of the sentences, in particular the life sentence for Letalvis Cobbins, brother of ringleader Lemaricus Davidson, and the sentence for the lone female defendant, Vanessa Coleman.

When I met Hugh Newsom before Coleman's second trial in November 2012, he told me it was because of "the idiot judge" that the case was being retried. (The retrials were caused by the drug conviction of Judge Richard Baumgartner.) Of Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who replaced Baumgartner, Mr. Newsom said "I don't like this judge either."

During the retrial last May of George Thomas, Gary Christian said he would "never, ever let anybody forget."

The first bill was the Chris Newsom Act, which would modify Tennessee's "13th Juror" rule. Former judge Baumgartner went through four verdicts and four sentencing hearings without bothering to affirm the verdicts as 13th Juror as required by Tennessee law.

Judge Blackwood overturned all four verdicts, saying he could not act as 13th Juror without seeing testimony. After presiding over the Coleman retrial, Blackwood affirmed the verdict as 13th Juror.

Under the new law, a judge is required to act as 13th Juror immediately after a jury's unanimous verdict. Since Baumgartner left the bench, Knox County judges have been doing exactly that. 
Judge Walter Kurtz, who replaced Blackwood for the George Thomas retrial, quickly acted as 13th Juror when Thomas was again convicted. Judge Kurtz previously overturned Blackwood's ruling for retrials and upheld the guilty verdicts for Cobbins and Davidson because of overwhelming DNA evidence against both.

The second bill passed by the Senate committee was the Channon Christian Act and is supposed to prevent defense attorneys from making up stories out of whole cloth about a deceased victim. Deena Christian, Channon's mother, said attorneys for defendant Lemaricus Davidson "lied to everybody about our daughter," falsely claiming Channon "had associated with Davidson and used drugs." 

Her autopsy revealed Channon Christian had no drugs in her system and she had to pass a drug test to have her job. There was no evidence such as cell phone records that the murdered couple knew their killers.

Both bills passed 9-0 without debate beyond sponsor Sen. Randy McNally explaining them and senators expressing sympathy for the families and appreciation for their testimony.

Mary Newsom testified for the first bill and Deena Christian for the second.

The parents will return to testify before a House committee in two weeks. 

My sources for this story were the Knoxville News Sentinel and WBIR, Knoxville's NBC station. I also used my own observations at the trials I attended or watched by live stream.


Anonymous said...

Anon in Texas here. I've been following and commenting on the Jahi posts. I also followed this story and am still heartbroken for the parents of these kids. I am so glad the fight for change is getting somewhere.

Karen C. said...

Now, if we can pass a law everywhere for all defense attorneys forbidding them from making up cr@p out of "whole cloth"- you know, like shotguns in Florida, for instance- now, that would be getting somewheres...

ritanita said...

Thanks for the article, David. Those families suffered unbelievable excess pain due to the years-long machinations of the Court.

I am pleased to hear they are on their way to helping to rectify the situation so no other families have to suffer as much as they did.

Please keep us updated on the progress of the legislation!

Starbright said...

I think of these families often and my heart breaks for them and their children. The absolute horror of the deaths of these two beautiful and contributing people is certainly worthy of the death sentence for all involved, I am sorry it was not to be. I hope they can find some measure of comfort with this legislation.

Anonymous said...

If the victims were black and the murders white, this would be front page news all over the country.