Saturday, May 8, 2010

Vanessa Coleman Trial Coverage: Christian-Newsome Murders

GUEST ENTRY by David in Tennessee

David attended two-and-a-half days of Vanessa Coleman's murder trial. Sprocket.

The Christian-Newsom Trial by David From Tennessee

On Wednesday morning, I drove 270 miles to Knoxville, Tennessee. Upon reaching Knoxville, I left the interstate for Kingston Pike. This becomes Cumberland Avenue which runs through the University of Tennessee. The road then turns into Main Street where the courthouse is located inside the Knoxville City County building.

After a couple of turns, I pull into a parking garage and park my car. I walk to the courthouse. At the front door, there is the first security check. You have to empty your pockets and undergo a scanner to see if you have a concealed weapon.

I then proceed to find the courtroom where the trial is held. I've been told something about the layout, but it takes some searching. I spot a bench alongside one of the courtrooms. I see some witnesses sitting on it whom I recognize from watching the live stream of previous trials. I then spot Chris Newsom's family, whom I also recognize. The trial is on the 2:30 PM break. Everybody is moving toward the courtroom. I follow in behind them.

Three Knox County deputy sheriffs are checking everybody who goes in the courtroom. Every time you go in whether morning, break, after lunch, you have to be checked. I empty my pockets again and am scanned for a weapon. I then walk into the courtroom. Every full day, I was checked 5 times, as was everyone else.

Although I have been a true crime junkie for decades, I had never attended a trial in person, only watching on television. It was surreal. The jury is brought in. On TV, I never saw the jury. They looked serious, but noncommittal.

Daphne Sutton had testified earlier that day, so I missed it. Stacey Lawson, ex-girlfriend of the now-convicted George Thomas, was the witness. Some of her friends follow her on the stand. Theodore Lavitt, lead defense attorney, tries to trip up the witnesses but rambles on and on and is boring. Judge Richard Baumgartner looks as bored as anyone. Once, he looked asleep. His tie is askew.

There are seven benches on each side of the center aisle. The victims' families sat on the second row from the front on the right side. I sat three rows behind them on Wednesday, two rows behind the next two days. I estimate the courtroom could seat around 125 spectators. I counted 40 on Wednesday afternoon. The number always fluctuates, but stays close to this number all three days. The judge lets people come and go while testimony is taking place as long as they make no noise.

Prosecutors Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price have the case cold after three trials. Toward the end of the day, the prosecution brings out tape that shows the dimensions of the Chipman Street house. No one in this small house could have been unaware of what was happening.

The jury is made up of 6 white women, 2 white men, 3 black women, and 1 black man. The four alternates are 2 men and 2 women, evenly split black and white. I have read that half of a jury is what the prosecution wants and the other half what the defense desires. This jury panel fits that description.

At a bench conference, I hear the judge tell the lawyers, "My attitude has always been to let it all hang out."

The overall atmosphere is relaxed. The victims families are used to being here and are good friends with the court employees. I want badly to tell them I am here to support them but don't know what to say. I am a shy person who doesn't speak to strangers unless spoken to. The Christians and Newsoms are very likable people.

Before court on Thursday morning, I saw Gary Christian talking in a hallway with a local TV reporter who is sympathetic to the parents of Vanessa Coleman. Vanessa's father wanted to meet the victims' families and tell them his sympathy for their loss. The trouble is that the Coleman's insist their daughter is an innocent victim who was raised to know right from wrong. That nigh, back in my motel room, I saw the Christians asked about this on TV. Gary walked away from the camera and refused to talk. Deena, Channon's mother, said, "If she was raised to know right from wrong she didn't learn." The respective parents avoid each other.

Thursday is spent playing the tape of Vanessa Coleman's interview with law enforcement. She has a little girl voice. Vanessa claims to have seen and heard very little. She never saw Chris Newsom. Lemaricus Davidson took Channon into his room and had sex with her several times. She didn't see any others go in the room. Channon was tied up. Once, Vanessa snuck in and gave Channon a glass of water. She wanted to call the police but was afraid.

Davidson took Channon and snapped her neck. He then told Vanessa to check her pulse. She didn't know how but held her wrist. Channon was dead. Davidson and the others then tied up Channon and put her in the garbage can. This is the gist of the story Coleman has been telling the last three years. The interviewing police told Vanessa they didn't believe her as this story does not fit the horrible torture inflicted on the victims. For one thing, Channon's neck was not broken. Also, the house was too small not to know what was going on. Coleman claims to have seen and heard little.

When cross-examining the law enforcement officials, defense attorney Lavitt keeps bringing up Daphne Sutton. Once a juror sent in a question (In Tennessee, jurors can ask a question if the judge and lawyer approve it) asking why Sutton wasn't charged with murder. Sutton came by while Channon was still alive held in a closet or bathroom. Davidson also gave Sutton some of Channon's things. The defense strategy is to portray Vanessa Coleman as a victim who was held hostage by the gang of killers, had nothing to do with the murders, and tricked by the police detectives who questioned her.

Theodore Lavitt spend hours Thursday cross-examining ATD agent Bernard Waggoner. He shouts and asks the same questions over and over. It goes on and on. Finally, some spectators voiced their disgust with Lavitt's tactics. Judge Baumgartner then said, "I don't want any editorializing from the audience. that's my job."

Outside, the jury's presence, handwriting expert Larry Miller takes the stand to authenticate Vanessa Coleman's journal.

Coleman's federal grand jury testimony is entered and reenacted by Price and Fitzgerald.
On Friday, the rest of Coleman's statement is played for the jury. Many pauses and stops for Coleman's little girl voice. She sits at the defense table with little emotion. Sometimes she takes notes. Coleman didn't hear Channon scream but heard Eric Boyd talking to the others when he came to the house. She said she heard boyd whispering while taking a shower.

ATF agent Waggoner is back on the stand and Lavitt keeps on with the same questions. Waggoner keeps testifying that Coleman's story was unblievable. Coleman's letter to her parents is introduced. It is the same story. Davidson and her boyfriend Cobbins threatened to kill her if she went to the police.

Knoxville police detective Todd Childress testifies. On cross, Lavitt accuses Childress of tricking Coleman and not tellinng her she was about to be arrested.

Jennifer Millsaps, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation DNA and forensic expert, takes the stand. She gives a clinic on DNA. Millsaps then tells where the DNA was found. Coleman's DNA was found on some strips binding Channon's wrists. the defense says Coleman had slept on the sheet torn into strips. Remember that Coleman said she checked Channon's pulse? She said that in case her DNA was found on Channon Christian. the DNA testimony is boring.

Finally, handwriting expert Larry Miller testifies before the jury about the journal. It was found at the house where Coleman fled with Cobbins and Thomas. It was in a purse that had items from Christian. There is no doubt Coleman wrote it. She has a distinctive style of forming some letters. As the journal was flashed on the screen, the spectators were on the edge of our seats. It is a very dramatic moment. No one is bored now. Miller reads the entry:

1/8 & 1/9
Wake up! And look around! Whats really going on! I don't really have a clue or at least I use to be able to say I don't know, but as much as I've seen and observed and learned. I know exactly whats goin on. Although alot of this is new to me. Life is a trip but its amazing how things play its own role. Life is interesting & full of surprises even very unexpected things happen that you don't expect.


last night was one of a kind we stayed w/a crackhead that was cool as hell. It snowed a little bit but its already melted. Lets talk about Adventures! I've had one HELL OF AN ADVENTURE
since I've been in the big T.N. its a crazy world these days! But I love the fun adventures & lessons that I've learned. Its going to be a long intgeresting year!


Day two The ride home! Ha, Ha,

We had a crackhead bring us back. the whole way back she was complaining b/c she didn't have any drugs.

She was drivin kinda crazy but it was str8 tho.

Let us remember what Vanessa Coleman called a HELL OF AN ADVENTURE. Chris Newsom was beaten and raped anally. He was dragged by a dog leash around his neck and naked from the waist down to a railroad track. His hands were bound and his mouth gagged with his own socks. Chris Newsom was then shot three times as the killers inflicted as much pain as possible. His body was then set on fire.

Channon Christian was found bound in a fetal position in the trash can. Five bags were around her body. A smaller white bag was around her head. She suffocated in the trash can. Channon was raped repeatedly, then kicked repeatedly in the vaginal area before she was stuffed alive in the trash can. She also suffered blows to the head.

Does anyone care to guess who administered a good part of this beating. The above is only a brief description of the agonizing torture two decent and likable young people were subjected to.
On Friday morning, I was seated on a bench waiting for court to begin. Hugh Newsom, Chris' father, spoke to me. He had seen me the previous two days. I told him I was there to support the Christian and Newsom families and hadn't spoke to him before because I didn't know what to say. Hugh put me at ease and we talked for a few minutes.

Later that day at a break, I held the door for a lady. She said, "Thank you sir." It was Deena Christian. When the day ended, I talked with Hugh and Mary Newsom. I told them, "God bless you and I hope everything works out for you."

They are wonderful people. It gives you a good idea what their children were like.

Thank you so much David. I hope you will consider sharing more of your courtroom observations and what you were feeling with T&T's readers. Sprocket.


Anonymous said...

David, You are a very good writer. I enjoyed reading your keen observations from these trial. I am sure the victim's families could pick up on the gentle kindness that is apparent from your writing. They have endured so much, including multiple trials and I am sure your just being there mean a lot. They, as well as any reader of your writing, can tell your focus is in the right place- with the victims in this horrible nightmare. Thanks again for your reporting.

Unknown said...

Very well written, wonderful Job David. Julie

Anonymous said...

Very well written, wonderful Job David. Julie

Anonymous said...

Since we have been discussing Casey Anthony's attorneys at T&T, I will tell about something I saw at this trial. Vanessa Coleman has two major attorneys. Theodore Lavitt is a Kentucky lawyer hired by her parents. Russell Green is a respected Knoxville attorney appointed by the Judge. The other suspects received top-flight local court-appointed attorneys.

There also are three young attorneys assisting Lavitt and Green. They may belong to the firms of one or both. During Lavitt's cross-examinations, one of the assistants, a young man who looks to be in his late twenties, hands Lavitt notes with questions to ask.

This young assistant watches his boss cross-examine a witness, thinks of a question, writes it down, and hands it to Lavitt. This way, Lavitt has someone help him do his thinking for him.

David From TN

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of this case, so I googled it. I'm sorry I did as I've never in my life read anything so horrific. I'm so sorry that this isn't the 1950's when we could execute quickly. I'm also very sad that we can't find a way to execute them all and throw in the people who made these monsters while we are at it.

Anonymous said...

But who is going to do Jose's thinking for him?

Unknown said...

Wow I was in Knoxville on business and saw this story on the news. I wondered how such a young girl got involved. I originally figured she would get off but NOT after that very imcriminating journal entry. She was just as crazy as them...basking in the fact she witnessed a horrific act! She deserves a long sentence, maybe not life but she needs to LEARN. Guess she didn't know how long the year would be!

Tezi said...

Thank you David for your insight.

I feel terrible for the Newsom and Christian families after hearing the verdict today. I have to ask myself, "What was this jury thinking?"

After hearing the journal entries, that erased any doubt in my mind about Vanessa's involvement. She's just as guilty of murder as the rest of them are. IMO, JMO, and all other disclaimers.

Anonymous said...

As to Vanessa, I felt the jury came back with a fair verdict. There were something like 50 different charges, and they DID convict her of facilitation, and almost any and every charge where there was a basis in law and fact. (8 counts?). It seemed to me that they dutifully went through each charge and applied the law and facts, not emotion.
Like the majority, I would have liked to have seen the rest of the participants get the death penalty. But watching on Youtube for the other defendants, I have to wonder how a 14 year old crackhead was allowed to keep child after child, all of which were abused and neglected. Two of which grew up to be the monsters in this case two more in prison on other charges. How does the cycle end?

Melissa said...

Anonymous, do you REALLY think she did not contribute to the beatings? She was raped by her boyfriend. I am sure she did contribute to the MURDER of Channon. And she knew damn well what happened to Christian. She wasnt scared at ALL if you look at her journal entries.

All we can hope for now is that her sentences are made to be consecutive, and not concurrently.