Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Christian-Newsom Torture Murder Case

We are honored to have a guest entry by a loyal T&T reader, David From Tennessee.

On Saturday night, January 6, 2007, Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom 23, went on a date from which they would never return. The couple went to the Washington Ridge Apartments in Northeast Knoxville to meet friends. We can't be certain what time, but 2 armed men appeared and forced both into Channon's Toyota 4runner. They were taken to a house at 2316 Chipman St., about 3.5 miles away.

Channon and Chris lived in the West Knoxville suburbs some 20 miles from the apartment complex. Channon was a student at the University of Tennessee and had two jobs. Chris did construction work. My brother used to live in another apartment building 9.5 miles to the southwest of Washington Ridge and 3.46 (map quest for all mileage) miles southwest of the Chipman St. house. I visited my brother about 5 times a year in Knoxville until he relocated to Middle Tennessee 6 years ago. To me, Knoxville did not have a big city atmosphere as Nashville does. You did not feel that Knoxville was dangerous. I used to go out at night and come back to my brother's apartment very late. I was always careful, but it is easy to hide in corners and behind parked cars at an apartment building. Still, Knoxville did not seem dangerous.

Channon's father Gary testified at the trial on Monday that she called him on her cell phone about 12:30 AM that night, and told him she was going to see friends. She did not seem worried, but it appears a gun was being held on her by her abductors, but I'm not certain. When Channon and Chris (both lived at home) did not show the next day, their parents became worried. They went to Washington Ridge and found Chris Newsom's car, but Channon's 4Runner was gone. The police were called, but do not search for adults until 72 hours pass.

Gary Christian, his son Chase, and friends of Channon organized a search on Sunday. With the help of a cell phone tower, they found her 4Runner in a vacant lot near a railroad. That afternoon, a train's engineer saw something beside the track that looked like a mannequin. He stopped and saw that it was a badly burned body. The Knoxville police finally arrived. The SUV had been swiped down and old clothes that Channon was going to give to Goodwill were gone from the 4Runner. An envelope in the vehicle had a fingerprint that was run through the database. The print belonged to one Lemaricus Davidson who lived at nearby 2316 Chipman St.

When the police came to the house, it was abandoned. Inside, there was a large garbage can with a lid. Channon Christian's body was crammed inside (she was 5-8). She had been "hog-tied." Soon Davidson and his cohorts were rounded up. The other suspects were his half-brother Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas, and Vanessa Coleman, the only female.

After abducting the couple, all four, including Miss Coleman, engaged in an orgy of rape and violence. They anally gang-raped Mr. Newsom, and orally, anally, and vaginally gang-raped Channon Christian. They brutally beat both victims and poured cleaning fluid down Miss Christian's throat. They killed Mr. Newsom after dragging him to the railroad track and set his corpse on fire.

This has been called a "carjack gone awry," or "Channon and Chris were in the wrong place at the wrong time," and that the rapists poured cleaning fluid down Channon's throat to destroy DNA evidence. This appears wrong. The killers ditched her SUV, making no attempt to steal if for money. Also, they made no attempt to force the victims to withdraw money with ATM cards which often happens in a carjacking. It appears that it became a chance for a sadistic murderous orgy. The four suspects gave many of these details as they blamed each other. Another man, Eric Boyd, was involved, but there wasn't evidence to charge him with the murders. Boyd was convicted in Federal Court in April 2008 of accessory to carjacking.

These murders were heavily covered locally in Knoxville. It was a case of two attractive, likable young people with loving families and many friends being murdered in the most horrific way possible. The national media ignored it while paying enormous attention to the Duke Lacrosse Hoax and Anna Nicole Smith. There was a lot of notice from some Internet sites. Email correspondents of mine from California had never heard of this crime. The other issue was race. the 2 victims were white, the 4 suspects black. Many have said that if the races were reversed, everyone in the Unites States would have heard of Channon and Chris. Others think the crime is no big deal and have mocked the victims.

My own view is that this is the most important trial now going on. It shows that horrible things can happen to good people and that you should never allow a criminal to take you away in a vehicle. You must throw the keys in one direction and run in the other. Or try to fight as you have nothing to lose. Channon and Chris would have been better off if they had been shot dead in the parking lot. The murder of Lily Burk in Los Angeles recently is another example of a young girl being murdered after a carjacking.

After over two and a half years, the legal process is finally moving. In these murders, we know when and were it happened. We know who the murderers are and what they did. Despite this, winning convictions will not be easy. The reason is that Judge Richard Baumgartner severed the cases. There are 4 trials, one for each suspect. This makes conviction difficult despite the overwhelming evidence. Each defendant will blame everything on the other 3 who are not in the courtroom and claim "I didn't do nothing." In California, they would probably have been all tried together because of Proposition 115 which passed in 1990.

The judge also ruled that it could not be tried in Knox County because of the publicity. Instead, a jury from Davidson County (Nashville) has been bussed to Knoxville for the first trial, of Letalvis Cobbins, which began on Monday, August 17. The trial has been streamed live on the Knoxville TV stations and I have watched as much as possible over 6 days. It is very painful to watch. The torture Channon and Chris suffered was indescribable. Posters at other crime forums have written that these are the worst murders they have ever heard of.

Cobbins also has a court-appointed lawyer who is one of the top trial attorneys in Knoxville, Scott Green, who used to be the best prosecutor in the local DA's office. He is now a defense attorney and is more skilled than the two prosecutors, Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price. In his opening statement, Green told jurors his client was a coward and rapist, but not a killer. He pled Cobbins guilty to rape as his DNA was on Channon. Green hopes this will save him from the death penalty and maybe get a not guilty verdict on the murder charges. Green has often scored on cross-examination.

Cobbins gave 3 interviews to police and was caught in several lies. Once, he claimed his DNA would not be found, but it was. Each was played in court. Cobbins claimed he didn't know the carjacking would take place and that he was afraid of his half-brother, Davidson.

On Thursday, Jennifer Millsaps, who does forensics serology and DNA analysis for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, testified. On Christian's striped shirt, Millsaps said she found sperm from Cobbins on one of the stains. Millsaps said five stains were found on Christian's jeans; DNA from her, sperm from Davidson and Cobbins and there was blood.

There were stains with Cobbins' sperm on the leg of Christian's jeans, Millsaps said. She also found Christian's blood on the knee area and the back seat area. Millsaps said an oral swab taken from Christian came back with Cobbins' DNA on it. Swabs from her vagina and rectum matched Davidon's DNA. A rectal swab from Newsom showed semen, but Millsaps said she couldn't determine whose it was. This means that Channon Christian was gang-raped.

On Friday, the medical examiner, Dr. Darinka Mileusnik-Polchan testified on the torture the autopsies of the victims' bodies revealed. Chris Newsom's bare feet were bound and his body was burned. His family wept as the ME described his face wrapped in a sweatshirt with a hole showing in it where Newsom was shot in the head. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged with socks. Newsom was also shot in the upper shoulder near his neck and in the lower back. the bullet to the head was Newsom's cause of death. He was dead when he was set on fire.

The ME described bruising indicating that Newsom was raped with an object, probably hours before he was killed. What was done to Newsom was "too complex" to be done by one person, she said. He had no defensive wounds and was likely outnumbered and overpowered.

When Newsom's body was found, his mother wanted to see it. The police would not let her. She put her arms around the body bag.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that she went to the crime scene where Christian was found. The ME said Christian's body was "crammed" in five large trash bags in a trash can in the kitchen. She was bound so tightly her knees were touching her cheeks. Christian was alive when she was put in the trash can. "She died in the trash can," the ME testified. The cause was lack of oxygen.

Christian was wearing only a sweatshirt and camisole. The ME said that Christian wasn't strangled. She had a plastic bag over her head and her eyes were open. Her body had bruising and abrasions indicating rape with blunt trauma and an object. Some of the jurors grimaced at the photos.

"This was no simple rape," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said. It was much more severe. Christian was raped orally first and eventually wrapped in the trash bags and put in the can. She believes Christian died within 3 to 5 minutes after the bag was put over her head. The ME testified that more than one person was responsible for Christian's murder.

What this means is a gang-rape with all four of the suspects involved. This testimony is practically killing the parents. They are going to have to hear it at least 3 more times.

On Friday, the judge asked Cobbins if he wanted to waive his right to testify. With an arrogant smirk, he said, "I want to sleep on it."

On Saturday, over the strong objections of his attorneys, Cobbins took the stand. Green didn't ask questions. Cobbins just talked. He said that he didn't rape Channon Christian. She, he said, offered herself. "She asked if I let her go she do anything. She offered to have sex. She gave me oral sex."

At that statement, Christian's father stood up in the courtroom but his wife pulled him back down. Cobbins concedes he didn't help Christian escape. He didn't say why though he claims his brother threatened to shoot him.

Under cross by prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald, Cobbins said, "Looking back on it, it was probably against her will because of the situation she was in." By testifying, Cobbins pretty much destroyed the defense his attorney had built for him.

By the way, does anybody think Cobbins ever thought about helping Channon escape?

Takisha Fitgerald did well in her closing, I thought. The other prosecutor, Leland Price, did the final rebuttal capably. The facts are plain to anyone willing to look.

I followed the first Phil Spector trial on Court TV and the second on Sprocket's blog. The 6 days of this trial were harder to get through than both Spector trials combined. What Spector did to Lana Clarkson was horrible enough, but Lana died almost instantly. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom died in unspeakable agony over several hours.

The case against Letalvis Cobbins was given to the jury this afternoon. After a rest Sunday, deliberations will begin on Monday.

Thank you so much David, for taking the time to write a synopsis of the first of four murder trials. Sprocket


Anonymous said...

Hi David,

This has to be one of the most disgusting and horrific things I have ever read. How senseless!! I have not heard of this case. My heart breaks for their friends and family. Those monsters should be tortured and killed in the exact same way. Thanks for bringing attention to this story and I look forward to any future updates.

Nancy Ann

ritanita said...


Welcome here and thank you for bringing this awful case to our attention. I can't imagine how awful it was to watch this trial which is a reflection of a crime almost beyond imagination for its gruesomeness.

My heart goes out to the families who have to live through all those trials.

Anonymous said...

If this had happened to my child I would be beyond insane. The suffering these young people endured is simply impossible to commprehend. I'll bet you money these POS tortured animals when they were young. These things (can't insult animals) are born like this. Michael Vick will never change and neither will they.

I agree this case has been covered up by the media because of race.

Thank you Sprocket for giving this coverage on your blog.

Septembe MOO

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments. In Tennessee, there are three ways to be guilty of first degree murder. In this case, the second applies. They are:

1. A premeditated and intentional act of killing another.
2. A killing of another committed in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate any first degree murder, act of terrorism, arson, rape, robbery, burglary, theft, kidnapping, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect or aircraft piracy.
3. A killing of another committed as the result of the unlawful throwing, placing or discharging of a destructive device or bomb.

When Cobbins took the stand he confirmed by his own words that he was guilty of first degree murder by Tennessee law. He admitted that he had control over Channon for several hours.

This is something that I wanted to add to the what I had written. There is no reason whatsoever for the jury to not come back with guilty verdicts for two murders along with the other charges.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

Hey David and Sprocket - I hope you don't mind me posting these links to live feed of this trial that David has brought to us here! I found them on WS:

Live trial coverage:

WARNING: This is video of the murder trial in progress for Letalvis Cobbins. Cobbins is accused in the abduction, rape, and murder of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

This is live video and is not an edited program. It is likely to contain graphic testimony, images, and descriptions of a violent crime. Please be advised.

Follow the trial of Letalvis Cobbins on Twitter:

Background articles, documents, photos and videos:

hope the links work!


Anonymous said...

I hope more media outlets pick up this case.

Anonymous said...

Tomorrow, you can use the links Niner gave to follow the verdict watch. WBIR, the NBC station for Knoxville does the best job of streaming.

David From TN

Tezi said...

David, thank you for the wonderful blog entry. This is one of the most horrific crimes I've ever read or heard about. I can NOT imagine the pain of the families in the court room. I feel so terrible for Channon's dad. You know he'd rip these animals (and that's giving these defendants a compliment) limb from limb given the chance.

You can bet your boots, if it would have been two blacks treated the way these two white people were treated, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson would be calling for nation-wide riots. Instead, the media is extremely quiet about this case.

And I have to wonder what is wrong with the female defendant? I know her defense is that she didn't do anything wrong, that she only cooked breakfast for the male defendants. She needs to be tortured the same as the victims were, just so the she can see what it feels like for no one to help her. JMO

This case has affected me like none other. I don't understand WHY this case isn't getting the national attention it deserves. I can NOT understand how another human being can stand by and watch others get tortured and NOT do anything about it. I can NOT understand how the female defendant thinks she did NOT do anything wrong!

I apologize for my rant.

Thank you again David for the interesting article. I greatly appreciate your time and effort.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your post. The female defendant claims she was just doing the cooking. By Tennessee law, she is guilty of double murder by being present as a group member.

The local reporter wrote that courtroom security has been keeping watch on Channon's father in case he goes after the defendant.

Tru TV is supposedly taping the trial. They were showing another trial last week. I don't know when Tru TV will show Christian-Newsom. They may show it between now and when the Davidson trial starts on September 21.

The defendant is as guilty as it is possible to be by law. He literally told us that on the stand. The sickening horror of the whole thing makes you wonder if the jury will have a member of the O.J. Simpson fan club or another Juror No. 10 as in the first Spector jury.

David From TN

caroleigh said...

David Thank You, and thank you also Sprocket for posting on your blog .

This is most gruesome, we can only hope that there is a special hell that all four of these defendants will find eternity in.

Were I the parents of these victims I'm afraid I would find a way of making sure these four know what pain feels like. I would find a way through secrecy or through cunning, somehow......I would find a way

Caroleigh in Vancleave Mississippi.

CaliGirl9 said...

How can defense attorneys live with themselves? Yeah I know it's a right for the accused to be legally represented, but in this case—to be in the same room as the defendants is plain sickening.
Thanks for bringing this horrific case to light. Ick.
May the jury deliberate completely and honestly so the conviction sticks.

Anonymous said...

The jury came back today (Tuesday) with guilty verdicts in the first degree. The penalty phase starts tomorrow (Wednesday). The penalty phase is also streamed live on the sites mentioned above.

David From Tennessee

Jobeth66 said...

I did just see on the news that they found Letalvis Cobbins guilty on 56 counts, including murder. I think the death penalty is too good for them.

Anonymous said...

Today, the jury brought to Knoxville from Nashville gave Cobbins life without parole. Not the sentence he should have had.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

{{Although I have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, my feelings about this case would be the same regardless. I'm on other side of the U.S so I don't know anyone of those involved, victims or otherwise.}} That being said, this case is SO SAD!! I feel DEEPLY for the victims families. Although I hope ALL defendants go down for this, there is one thing that I must say...I believe that Letalvis had no knowledge of the carjacking before it happened. That part of his story is consistent throughout. I also believe when he first got back to the house after following them from carjacking that he was like, uh lets bounce up outta here and what you doin bro, but when he didn't, it was at that point that he became involved and guilty!! What a shame that he, (or Vanessa or even G) could have done something to save (at least) the lives of the two victims. (Maybe sneak a text message out to someone?) No one did, so sad! Point is, I think there are clear parts of Letalvis testimony that are consistent and truthful. All involved should be equally punished (and I hope Eric gets charged with more!) I'm anxious to hear the interrogation of G when it is released later this month. None the less, I believe Letalvis could have been the ONE person to save Chris and Channon!! Again, I BELIEVE he didn't know about the carjacking. He's very consistent about that part of story and some other parts. I believe at the moment he got back from following them in the car he was ready to bounce...but HE DIDN'T!!!! He may or may not have been involved directly with either death, BUT the moment he didn't 'bounce' as he says, and get help, was the moment I feel he holds a huge responsibility for this. He was the one person that could have ended this and didn't. They're all guilty! (Even the girl.) So sad. The victims families are in my prayers.

jamierenee said...

I live in MD and I heard about this heinous crime only by accident. The horror of the last hours of these young people is beyond belief! The unimaginable pain those poor parents are forced to endure is more than the human heart should ever have to bear. I didn't even know these kids and this disturbs me so much that I truly don't know how the parents can even function. This is beyond grief. I pray the Lord gives them the peace that "surpasses all understanding", because what comfort can anyone or anything else offer? Even if they were allowed to destroy these monsters with their own hands, the mental images of their childrens' suffering is indelibly carved in their brains and hearts. The courage it must take to sit in the same room as these grotesque creatures and not go after them is staggering. I can't believe(or maybe I can)the media is ignoring this story. They're always looking for sensational aren't they? What could be more sensational than this?

Anonymous said...

I think the media is not running this story because it is so horrific. It made me sick to my stomach reading what happened to these poor children. You can't watch TV without a story of a child being abducted, raped and murdered but this is the worst crime I have heard of. Now, the Christian and Newsome families have to bear this process to bring justice to their children. All of it is unimagineable and more than any human being should have to bear. If ever the death penalty was appropiate, it is here.

Anonymous said...

In compiling this article, I watched as much of the live stream of the trial as I could. Other sources were the Knoxville News-Sentinel and the Knoxville TV stations WBIR and WATE, in addition to journalists Jamie Satterfield, Nicholas Stix, and Duncan Mansfield.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

you made an excellent point in another article (i believe) having to do with the motive - they said it was a "carjacking" but they didn't keep the car nor did they try to get money with their atm cards.

i can't wrap my head around a literal reason for WHY this happened... did these individuals just simply want to gang rape, torture, and murders these people? this sounds akin to a "serial killer" but these people don't really fit into that category. did they all sit down and plan this? or what? how do 5 individuals just comply with committing these acts, and if one was unaware or was just not a part of it how can you possibly not try to help them? and there was plenty of chances when something could have been done.

i can't imagine this is a first for these individuals, in some way or another.

4 men raping another man? just for the mere pleasure of depraving him?

how does coleman not feel for this woman nor care that her bf is a rapist?

how do these deviants exist in our society so unnoticed? like i said, this can't be a first is no associated with any of these people decent or have any sense of morality? conscience? heart? soul?

white, black, brown, orange, green, w/e, how can you feel anything other than blind rage and a desire to literally erase these people?

Deborah said...

These are not humans, nor would I insult the animal species, by calling them animals. They are absolutely Evil Incarnate. Sociopaths, all five of them. This is definitely a Hate Crime, they hated these two kids for being White and Middle Class..He made the comment to a friend in Kentucky, they were accused of killing some rich white kids.
This is the reason it went from car-jacking to sadistic murder & torture..Where were the media??? If this had been white on black crime, we would never have heard the end of it..Would have been bigger than O. J.!!!! All of these
Criminals deserve the Death Penalty, I feel so bad for these two kids families..May God grant you both Peace..My heart aches for all of you, especially the mother & father of both.

Anonymous said...

Never heard anything about this case until today. In light of what is happening in FL right now, I posted it on Facebook just so people could see how "racist" us white people really are, espically sine most of the media is white.

Anonymous said...

Just reading this has built so much anger inside. WHAT THE HECK IS WRONG WITH THOSE PEOPLE? Who would do such a cruel thing and what could possibly be going through youre head well commiting this crime. It's sick. My prayers go out to the families and friends of this young adults. It's just such a shame that people like these murderers even exist in this world and are even givin the opportunity to still breath. UGH!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

It is clear Letalvis Cobbins went to the Washington Apartments with Eric Boyd & LeMaricus Davidson with the intent to carjack. His role was to drive Boyd's car back to the Chipman house. There was a plan. His alibi under questioning was simply too weak and coupled with the physical evidence later shown to discredit him, Cobbins was a willing and knowing participant in the initial carjack. Cobbins also raped Channon Christian multiple times. This is corroborated by Vanessa Coleman under interrogation. Vanessa Coleman also played a role greater than simply confining Channon Christian to the bathroom during Daphne Sutton's brief visit to the house on Sunday. If one were to believe the suspects, the house was always quiet and the men simply visited the room where Channon Christian was being held from time to time. The ultra violence perpetrated upon Channon Christian took place in a room w/o a door in a house so small that such testimony is not credible. Letalvis Cobbins should have received the death penalty.

Anonymous said...

Thank god they just found Vanessa Coleman guilty in the retrial! Its just a shame they all didnt receive Death sentences! Only Davidson got this. These people make me sick! Living near Knoxville ive saw & read about the stuff they did to this poor couple. My heart goes out to the Christian & Newsome families. I couldnt imagime what they are going through. As a father myself I would have already been in jail cause 1st time i saw one these monsters in person i wouldve tried to kill them myselves. Especially in the Cobbins trial when the monster testified saying Shannon had oral sex with him willingly! Which if that was case they wouldnt have made her drink bleach trying to kill their DNA! Coleman diary talking about that weekend in Knoxville being the time of her life! Well at least she gets to spend rest of her life in prison. Hopefully she get some evil guard who decides to torture her! Sickening these monsters! They should all fry!! Slow & very painful!

Anonymous said...

I'm am now just hearing and reading up on what happened to this young couple ....and I got say why didn't the media jump on this case . I can't figure out does our judistric system allows this . Their really is no justice anymore . My heart goes out to the christian and Newsom families.... and what they have to go through everyday just trying to figure out WHY would anyone want to do this to another human beings . I've never owned a hand gun but the past week me reading up on this ....I'm planning on getting concealed weapon permit....because in reality ....there are truly sadistic people just waiting for opportunity to put harm on ghd innocents and it's best to be prepared .

Sprocket said...

There was media coverage of these cases. I believe all the trials were live streamed online via local stations.