Thursday, November 8, 2012

Christian-Newsom Torture Murders: Vanessa Coleman Retrial

Vanessa Coleman at a prior court hearing.

This is a delayed post from David.  He originally wrote it on Oct. 26th, but I was dealing with a sick husband and trial coverage ground to a halt. Sprocket.

October 26th, 2012
On October 25th, 2012, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ordered Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood removed from the cases of three of the four defendants in the January 2007 torture-murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

There has been a series of hearings and decisions regarding the case since the original judge, Richard Baumgartner, was removed after he was discovered to be perpetrating crimes while on the bench.

The Tennessee Attorney General's office asked the appellate court to remove Blackwood from three of the cases on the grounds Blackwood was so upset over Baumgartner's misdeeds that he could not be objective.

The appellate court ruled a "reasonable" person would conclude Blackwood could not be objective and a new judge must be appointed.

"In summary, this Court acknowledges that Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood undertook difficult tasks in presiding over the cases involved in this appeal and the State prosecution of former Judge Richard Baumgartner. We have no doubt that Judge Blackwood subjectively has made every effort to approach these cases in an unbiased manner. We, however, are required to review the record to determine if Judge Blackwood's impartiality could reasonable be questioned by an objective person."

Blackwood took over the case when Baumgartner confessed in March 2011 to official misconduct for buying prescription drugs from a probationer in his court. Blackwood gave Baumgartner official diversion, which kept him out of prison and "spared his pension."

Baumgartner, coincidentally, is now on trial in federal court.

In December 2011, Blackwood ordered new trials for all four defendants. The numerous back and fourth decisions, along with an outburst in court by Blackwood, was enough to bring in a new judge to take a fresh look at the cases.

The state did not challenge the decision for a retrial for Vanessa Coleman or Blackwood's denison in that case. Her trial is still scheduled for next month. That may change after this ruling.

There is a chance the new judge will still order new trials for the other three defendants.

Here is a video report from WBIR with comments from the parents of the victims. It includes a clip of Blackwood's outburst in court several months ago.

November 3rd, 2012
At the last motions hearing for her upcoming retrial, Vanessa Coleman had a prison hair dye of "cherry red." Now, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has ordered Knox County Sheriff Jimmy Jones to allow a local private hairdresser to give Coleman a new look prior to next week's jury selection for her November 13 retrial.

At first, Sheriff Jones refused without a court order. Defense attorney Russell Greene went to Judge Blackwood, who obliged. Greene said Coleman's parents will foot the bill. 

November 8th, 2012
Here is a report on jury selection which takes place tomorrow. Opening statements are scheduled for Tuesday, November 13. I have a hotel room booked for five days.

David in Tennessee

I'm very excited that David will cover the first week of Vanessa's trial for T&T! Sprocket.



Anonymous said...

Nancy Grace featured the case on her HLN show. You can see video clips at her site.

Nancy Grace's facebook page received thousands of comments relating to her show on the Christian-Newsom case.

Per her usual style, Nancy was very passionate. She tends not to let her guests do much talking. Jamie Satterfield tweeted about "not getting a word in edgewise."

Nancy and her producer told the basic facts. She said in all the cases she had covered and tried as a prosecutor herself, she had almost never seen a murder scenario as bad as this one.

In my view, Nancy spent too much time on the new hairdo Coleman received. She and her producer never mentioned Coleman's journal, the most damning evidence against her, which negated the defense's argument. Instead, Nancy railed for the entire show against Judge Blackwood for allowing the red dye job to be made over.

Judge Baumgartner, whose criminality caused the verdicts to be overturned, was mentioned, but only briefly.

In the first trial, Coleman was up for the death penalty. This time the charge is facilitation only. On the one hand, this requires less proof. An objective person would say the journal alone provides it. On the other hand, a split jury that gives a "compromise" verdict, will result in little prison time. Coleman could walk with time served if this happens.

Also, the defense cannot use the argument that "the three killers have already been convicted." The other defendants are in limbo while the new judge reviews their cases.

As T&T readers know, jury selection is the key to any trial.

David In TN

Anonymous said...

I am praying the jury pays attention and reaches a verdict that will keep Vanessa in prison for rest of her natural life. I watched all the original trials via live stream and was appalled at the torture Channon endured.


Sandy said...

I am also appreciative of David's coverage of this trial. Hoping that Mr. Sprocket is doing better, and you as well...