Notorious Knoxville double murder headed for retrial?


One of the most shocking double murder trials to be held in the United States in recent years is headed back to court on a technicality.


There can be little doubt that at times the entire legal process can be unfair to defendants, on both sides of the Atlantic or anywhere, but there are times when it isn’t simply fair but too fair. This appears to be the case in the horrific double murder of Channon Christian and her boyfriend Hugh Christopher Newsom.

This was a case in which the evidence against the accused was absolutely overwhelming. As usual is such cases, the state bent over backwards, because the last thing the authorities wanted was for a cold-blooded psychopathic killer to be turned loose on the public when a tribunal of appeal was forced to overturn a conviction on a technicality.

For those unfamiliar with this shocking double murder, here is a brief résumé. More detailed accounts can be found on many websites including truTV’s Crime Library. If you are of a sensitive disposition, you may wish to skip the following 5 paragraphs.

Channon Christian was a 21 year old student who was studying sociology at the University of Tennessee. Her boyfriend Chris Newsom was two years older, and on Saturday, January 6, 2007, they had been to a Knoxville restaurant and were driving somewhere when they were carjacked and kidnapped by a gang.

The body of Chris Newsom was found early the next afternoon near the railroad track in the north of the city. The following day, their vehicle a Toyota 4-Runner was found by Channon’s parents who were out looking for their daughter in desperation. In some serious crime investigations, the detective work is less than perfect, but the police were on the ball with this one. CSIs found an envelope in the car, lifted a print from it in double quick time, and by 2pm on Tuesday they were at 2316 Chipman Street, the home of a recently released prisoner, Lemaricus Davidson, warrant in hand. Davidson had served time for carjacking, but was nowhere to be found. Instead, the police found the body of Channon Christian stuffed in the kitchen trash.

Davidson was arrested on Wednesday, January 11; Davidson’s brother Letalvis Cobbins was also arrested (Lemaricus, Letalvis, where do they get these names?) as were a third man George Thomas, and a girl, Vanessa Coleman. A fourth man Eric DeWayne Boyd, who did not take part in the crimes, would eventually receive an 18 year sentence as an accessory, in April 2008.

Bad as this was, it would soon become clear that this was no mere carjacking gone terribly wrong. Chris Newsom has been sodomised, both in homosexual fashion, because semen was found in his anus, and raped with an unidentified object. He appears to have been forced to walk barefoot to where his body was found, and was then shot in the back of the head. His body was then burned, presumably to destroy forensic evidence.

Channon Christian was not only multiply raped but beaten horribly. Bleach was poured down her throat and on her genitalia while she was still alive, and finally she had been suffocated. The bleach was obviously used to destroy forensic evidence prior to disposing of her body, in particular semen. At his trial, Cobbins claimed Channon had fellated him almost voluntarily, of course, she had been orally raped. He made this partial admission because the forensic people had found his semen on her clothing. (His claim can be found in this video at around 18 minutes).

The proceedings were covered extensively by Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel, whose reports together with all the important testimony can be found on YouTube. Juries were empanelled from Nashville to avoid prejudicing the defendants, who didn’t really have much of a defense; the testimony of Letalvis Cobbins was clearly self-serving; the best his brother’s lawyers could do was to suggest that any sexual contact between Lemaricus Davidson and Channon Christian had been voluntary. Cobbins was given life without parole; in a separate trial. Davidson was sentenced to death. He did not take the stand. George Thomas was also given life without parole, while Vanessa Coleman was given a sentence which if served in full will see her released only as a pensioner.

How can the defendants in such a case in which the proceedings have been manifestly fair and the evidence compelling be granted an appeal? Well, apparently the judge had been doing things with noxious substances the law says citizens should not in the United States, especially judges. If you are happy reading legalese, check this out.

A retrial(s) is/are by no means certain though, as can be seen from this recent report, and there may be a certain way to avoid it if the courts follow the example of another judge. Although he has been convicted of a quite shocking double murder, Letalvis Cobbins is attempting to play the victim. He is, or was, suing his gaolers for assaulting him, but District Judge Tom Varlan ruled that he is not entitled to legal representation in order to do so. Surely it cannot be beyond the powers of the American judicial system to place a similar block on an appeal that is clearly frivolous, perhaps by requiring the defense to pay its own costs in the event of its losing, and for the lawyers to be held personally accountable?

[The above article was first published on June 17, 2012; the original wasn’t archived. When I saved this article to disk, the associated photograph did not save with it, but I am 99% certain it was the photograph of Channon Christian and Chris Newsome above. Crime Library is now defunct.]

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