Vanessa Coleman – Lemaricus Davidson – Letalvis Cobbins – George Thomas – Eric Dewayne Boyd
Murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
Channon Gail Christian, 21, and Hugh Christopher Newsom, Jr., 23, were a couple from Knoxville, Tennessee. They were both raped, tortured and murdered after being kidnapped early on the morning of January 7, 2007. Their vehicle had been carjacked.
Five suspects were arrested and charged in the case. The grand jury indicted four of the suspects on counts of murder, robbery, kidnapping, rape and theft. Three of those arrested, Letalvis D. Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson and George Thomas, have been convicted on multiple charges including several counts of felony murder. After a jury trial Lemaricus Davidson was sentenced to death by lethal injection and Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Vanessa Coleman has been convicted of facilitating the crimes and sentenced to 53 years in prison, and Eric Dewayne Boyd has been convicted of federal charges as accessory after the fact to carjacking and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Christian moved from Louisiana to Tennessee with her family in 1997. She was a graduate of Farragut High School and a senior majoring in sociology at the University of Tennessee. On January 12, 2007, her family released a statement to thank the Knoxville community “for all their prayers and everything.” A candlelight vigil was held on the university campus January 25, 2007 in her honor. In 2008, a Golf Tournament and Memorial Foundation were established in Channon Christian’s memory to provide a scholarship for a Farragut High School Senior to attend the University of Tennessee.
Newsom, a former baseball player for the Halls High School Red Devils, graduated in 2002. He was interred at Woodhaven Memorial Gardens. A little-league baseball tournament in Newsom’s honor was held at the Halls Community Park in 2008 and 2009. A memorial scholarship is given annually to a graduating Halls High baseball player.
According to news reports, Christian and Newsom had gone on a date at a local restaurant on Saturday, January 6, 2007, but did not return home. During their night out, the couple were hijacked, bound and blindfolded by three males, and “taken back to Lemaricus Devall ‘Slim’ Davidson’s rented house on Chipman Street.”</style=”font-size:>
Christian’s parents found her abandoned Toyota 4-Runner two blocks away from the Chipman Street house the following Monday with the help of her mobile phone provider. An envelope recovered from the vehicle yielded fingerprint evidence that led police to Lemaricus Davidson and 2316 Chipman Street. When police went to the address on Tuesday, January 9, they found the home unoccupied and Christian’s body in a trash can in the kitchen.
According to the testimony of the Knox County Acting Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan at the subsequent trial of Eric Boyd, Newsom was repeatedly sodomized with an object and then blindfolded, gagged, arms and feet bound and his head covered. Barefoot, he was either led or dragged outside the house to a set of nearby railroad tracks. He was shot in the back of the head, the neck, and the back, and his body then set on fire.
Channon’s death came only after hours of sexual torture, medical examiner Mileusnic-Polchan testified. Channon suffered horrific injuries to her vagina, anus and mouth. She was not only raped but savaged with “an object,” possibly a broken chair leg, the doctor testified. She was beaten in the head. Some type of chemical was poured down her throat, and her body, including her bleeding and battered genital area, likely scrubbed with the same solution – all while Channon was alive, the forensic expert said. She was then “hog-tied,” with curtains and strips of bedding, her face covered tightly with a small trash bag and her body stashed inside five large trash bags before being placed inside a large trash can and covered with sheets. Channon died slowly, suffocating, the medical examiner said.
Suspects and indictments
George Geovonni “Detroit” Thomas, 24, faced a total of 46 charges. Thomas was indicted on 16 counts of felony murder growing out of the rape, robbery, kidnapping, and theft of Christian and Newsom, 2 counts of premeditated murder, 2 counts of especially aggravated robbery, 4 counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, 20 counts of aggravated rape, and 2 counts of theft.
Letalvis “Rome” Cobbins, 24, (b. December 20, 1982) faced the same 46 charges as Thomas. He has also been charged with assaulting a correctional officer while incarcerated pending trial. Previously in 2003, Cobbins was convicted of third-degree attempted robbery in New York state. He and Davidson are brothers. Cobbins was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Lemaricus Devall “Slim” Davidson, 25, (b. June 13, 1981) faced the same 46 charges as Thomas. Previously Davidson had just completed serving a five-year sentence in Tennessee on a previous felony conviction for carjacking and aggravated robbery on August 5, 2006.
Vanessa Coleman, 18, was arrested by the Lebanon Police Department in Lebanon, Kentucky. She faces 40 Tennessee state charges. Coleman was indicted on 12 counts of felony murder growing out of the rape, robbery, kidnapping, and theft of Christian and Newsom, 1 count of premeditated murder (of Christian only), 1 count of especially aggravated robbery (of Newsom only), 4 counts of especially aggravated kidnapping, 20 counts of aggravated rape, and 2 counts of theft. She was convicted and sentenced to 53 years in prison on July 30, 2010.
In each indictment, the large number of rape counts were included to provide a range of options for prosecutors, not to reflect the number of rapes which actually occurred.
Eric DeWayne “E” Boyd, 34, was arrested in connection with the fatal carjacking, though not indicted by the Knox County grand jury. Boyd faced federal charges in United States district court as an accessory after the fact for helping the suspects evade the police. Later, Boyd was also accused by Thomas and Cobbins of rape and murder, and a search warrant was obtained for his DNA. The accusations by Thomas and Cobbins did not result in state charges against Boyd, but he is serving 18 years in federal prison on his conviction as an accessory to the carjacking.
The four suspects indicted in Knox County were originally scheduled to be tried separately, at trials scheduled between May and August 2008. However, the trial date for the subjects indicted in Knox County was moved back to 2009 in February 2008. In an apparent attempt to force the prosecution to try the case with the least forensic evidence first, the attorneys for Thomas filed a motion for a speedy trial, arguing there was no forensic link between their client and the crime scene. Thomas was granted the motion and was scheduled to go on trial on August 11. Judge Baumgartner ruled that Thomas’ phone calls made from the jailhouse to his acquaintances were admissible as evidence.
District Attorney Randy Nichols announced that the state would seek the death penalty for both Cobbins (the first to go to trial) and Coleman if convicted. Davidson was also indicted for a second robbery which was committed after the murders. The publicity against the accused led the defense to argue that a change of venue was required in order to ensure a fair trial. However, the state argued that an impartial jury could be found during voir dire, and the presiding judge subsequently denied the motion as “premature”.
On April 16, 2008, Eric Boyd was found guilty in Federal court of being an accessory to a fatal carjacking and for failing to report the location of a known fugitive. Boyd’s was the first case to go to trial, and he was the only suspect not charged with murder. He was sentenced to the maximum of 18 years in Federal prison. He is currently incarcerated at Beckley FCI.
On August 25, 2009, Letalvis D. Cobbins was found guilty of the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. Cobbins faced the possibility of the death penalty because he was convicted of first degree felony murder in the murder of Christian. He was found guilty of facilitation of murder for Newsom but he was acquitted of Newsom’s rape. The jurors worked about 10 hours Monday and on Tuesday morning before reaching a verdict. They never asked Judge Richard Baumgartner any questions during their deliberations. On August 26, Cobbins was sentenced to life without parole.
On October 28, 2009, Lemaricus Devall Davidson was found guilty on all counts. He was found not guilty on three counts of the aggravated rape of Christopher Newsom but was found guilty of the lesser included charges of facilitation of rape. The sentencing hearing began on October 29, 2009 at 9am EST. The sentence hearing ended the next day October 30, 2009 at approx 3pm EST when a jury, after deliberating approx 3 hours, sentenced Lemaricus Davidson to death on 4 of the conviction counts.
On December 8, 2009, George Thomas was found guilty on all counts, including the ones the other defendants were acquitted of despite his case being based solely on circumstantial evidence and testimony. The sentencing hearing began December 8th, 2009 and ended on December 10th, 2009 at approx 10:45 am EST when the jury, after approx 3 hours of deliberation, returned a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole on each of the 4 capital convictions.
The convictions of Boyd, Cobbins, Davidson and Thomas left Vanessa Coleman as the last defendant to face trial. Coleman’s case is complicated by the fact that, while she was granted immunity by federal authorities for testimony in the federal case on the car-jacking, the state courts have ruled that the federal grant of immunity does not extend to the state charges on murder and rape. On May 13, 2010, Coleman was acquitted of first degree murder but found guilty on lesser charges. On July 30, 2010, she was sentenced to 53 years behind bars.
Reaction and accusations of racism
The national news media was criticized for allegedly ignoring the story because the victims were white and the suspects black. This criticism was also fueled by erroneous early reports of dismemberment and mutilations. Most of the original reports with misinformation (reported from a federal deputy US Marshal after the suspects’ arrest in Kentucky) were later denied by the District Attorney.
The president of Criminal Justice Journalists, an association of crime, court and prison writers, editors and producers, said, “I can’t say that this one would have had any more coverage if five whites had been accused of doing these things to two blacks, absent a blatant racial motive… as bad as this crime is, the apparent absence of any interest group involvement or any other ‘angle’ might also explain the lack of coverage.” Police Chief Sterling Owen IV said that there is no indication the crimes were racially motivated and that the murders and assault “appears to have been a random violent act.” “There is absolutely no proof of a hate crime,” said John Gill, special counsel to Knox County District Atty. Randy Nichols. “We know from our investigation that the people charged in this case were friends with white people, socialized with white people, dated white people. So not only is there no evidence of any racial animus, there’s evidence to the contrary.”
Some commentators continued to disagree, claiming that such a crime would include a motive of racial hatred. Conservative political commentator Michelle Malkin repeated this accusation on her blog and on Fox News’ O’Reilly Factor program. Prior to the DA’s statement, Newsom’s mother sympathized with the “hate crime” position stating, “It may have started out as a carjacking, but what it developed into was blacks hating whites.” Christian’s father (addressing those whom he believes used his daughter’s death to further their own agenda) appeared ambivalent, stating “[the crime] ain’t about you.”
The case also attracted the attention of white supremacists. On May 27, 2007, around 30 white supremacists led by Alex Linder rallied in downtown Knoxville in protest of the murders. They were met by a larger number of counter-protestors, many dressed as clowns (parodying the Ku Klux Klan).
After the protest, syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts dismissed claims that the crime was underreported, citing a 2001 report that found “Blacks and Latinos are underrepresented in news media as victims of crime and significantly overrepresented as perpetrators.” Pitts added that he was “unkindly disposed toward the crackpots, incendiaries and flat-out racists who have chosen this tragedy upon which to take an obscene and ludicrous stand” and that they and any other white Americans who felt victimized by the perceived under reporting could “cry me a river.”
The house at 2316 Chipman Street was bought by a nearby business and razed in October 2008; the new owners of the lot planned to build a simple memorial.
An October 16, 2009 article in The Daily Mail stated, “Ironically, the case has now generated more publicity surrounding the furore over whether or not political correctness was behind the US media’s decision to largely ignore the story than it did for the murders themselves.” The same article quoted commentator Michelle Malkin as saying, “This case – an attractive white couple murdered by five black thugs – doesn’t fit any political agenda. It’s not a useful crime. Reverse the races and just imagine how the national media would cover the story of a young black couple murdered by five white assailants.”