On May 17, Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner announced that the four defendants charged with having kidnapped, robbed, gang-raped, murdered, desecrated the corpses of, and stolen from Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, will each have a separate trial, each of which Judge Baumgartner foresees – perhaps a tad optimistically – as lasting two weeks. The state indictments can all be read here.
Newsom was anally gang-raped, and then murdered several hours after being kidnapped; Christian was vaginally, orally, and anally gang-raped, and murdered approximately 24 hours after the couple was kidnapped. At one point, one or more of the defendants allegedly also poured cleaning fluid down the presumably then still living Christian’s throat, but a false report by Michelle Malkin notwithstanding, none of the defendants has been charged with torture.
(Speaking of false reporting, 99 percent of the bloggers and Web sites I have read on the case, even Court TV’s usually reliable Crime Library, have been content to uncritically regurgitate an unsourced rumor that I traced back to neo-Nazi New York State radio host, Hal Turner, whereby the killers chopped off the living Christopher Newsom’s penis and at least one of the living Channon Christian’s breasts. The largely neoconservative bloggers in question, who claim to hate neo-Nazis, and who tar as a white supremacist anyone who is not racially correct, do not appreciate being told where they got their “facts” on the case. On May 18, after a four-month-long stonewalling campaign by law enforcement and justice officials, Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols’ special assistant, John Gill, insisted that the Internet rumors of sexual mutilation are “absolutely not true.” Gill’s statement has so far had no effect on the bloggers, and authorities in Knoxville have still not released the autopsy reports on the victims.)
George Geovonni Thomas, 24, is charged with having shot Newsom to death and set his corpse on fire. Christian may have been strangled.
According to a February 1 report by Fox News’ Knoxville affiliate, WATE, at least one of the killers dismembered Christian, placing her body parts in five separate garbage bags and putting the bags in a garbage can in the kitchen of the apartment of defendant-brothers Letalvis Darnell Cobbins, 24, and Lemaricus Devall Davidson, 25, where police found the bags. Between the February 1 report and May 17, the dismemberment of Channon Christian was no longer included in any of the reports this reporter has seen; I only came into possession of the aforementioned report on May 17, thanks to a reader’s help. Coincidentally, that same day, a report on CBS’ Knoxville affiliate, WVLT, spoke vaguely of police “finding Channon Christian stuffed in garbage bags.”
In a May 27 story, however, the Knoxville News-Sentinel's Jamie Satterfield, who has reported on this story since the very beginning in early January, insists that Channon Christian was not dismembered, rather that "The fact is, Christian's intact body was wrapped in five trash bags." Satterfield reported early on that Christian's "battered" body had been found in a garbage can in Cobbins and Davidson's apartment.
Jamie Satterfield has done an excellent job, as long as she has stuck to the physical facts of the case. However, in her May 27 article, she engages in a great deal of stealth editorializing that is contradicted by the facts of the case. Satterfield promotes the twin notions that the crimes committed against Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were not racially motivated, and that only a "white supremacist" would see them in such a light.
And as long as the Knoxville authorities refuse to release the autopsy reports on the victims — something this reporter tried for weeks to obtain — honest people will not know whom to believe, regarding the condition of Christian's corpse.
Ex-con Letalvis Cobbins, alias Letalvis Davidson, is scheduled for trial on May 12, 2008. Cobbins is indicted on 46 Tennessee state felony counts, including aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, aggravated rape, felony murder, premeditated murder and theft. Cobbins was previously convicted of felony third-degree attempted robbery on May 19, 2003, in Queens, NY – he just celebrated his anniversary!
Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, was indicted on 40 state felony counts, including aggravated rape, felony murder, and premeditated murder. In a touching courtroom moment on May 17, according to WVLT reporter Gordon Boyd, Coleman “mouthed the words, ‘I love you’ as she was led out.” Coleman’s trial is set to begin on June 16, 2008.
Coleman was referred to in initial reports in January as a “witness” rather than as a suspect, and was a source of much material that eventually went into the case against her and her fellow defendants. An able defense attorney would try and spin Coleman’s cooperation into a mitigating factor at trial, and if she is convicted, during the sentencing phase. (Although Tennessee is a death-penalty state, Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols has inexplicably refused to reveal whether he will seek the death penalty.) How loving Cobbins is presently feeling about Coleman’s cooperation with federal agents and local police may be another matter entirely.
Cobbins’ ex-con brother, Lemaricus Davidson, was charged with the same 46 counts as Cobbins, and is scheduled to go on trial for them on July 14, 2008. (According to published reports, Eric Dewayne Boyd, 34, told federal agents that Davidson had confessed to him that he had murdered – “choked” – Channon Christian.) Davidson, convicted in Tennessee in 2001 of federal carjacking charges, a death penalty-eligible crime, and in spite of being a problem prisoner – but who among us is perfect? – served but a token sentence of at most five years, and was released only shortly before his alleged crime spree.
In addition to the initial 46-count indictment handed down against Davidson on February 1, earlier this month, he was indicted on six additional state felony counts in the January 8 armed robbery of an employee in a local Pizza Hut, the attempted armed robbery of a female customer in the restaurant, and weapons possession charges. (Not noticing that Davidson allegedly had a gun trained on her when he allegedly tried to grab the customer’s purse, she resisted, and the “bewildered” robber was allegedly left holding the ripped strap.)
Davidson’s next court date in the Pizza Hut case is September 27, 2007.
The allegations so far are that beginning in the wee hours, Davidson spent all of January 7 variously carjacking, kidnapping, robbing, torturing and gang-raping Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian, and murdering Christian, and then headed out the next day, to rob people at the Pizza Hut. Busy fellow, he.
Ex-con George Thomas, likewise indicted on the same 46 counts, is scheduled for trial on August 11, 2008. Thomas is charged with having shot Newsom to death. Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten reportedly said that Davidson wept when he was arrested.
Ex-con Eric Boyd has been charged federally, in U.S. District Court in Knoxville, with “being an accessory after the fact to carjacking,” for having allegedly helped Davidson flee apprehension. Boyd’s trial date has yet to be set. Boyd has not been charged with any of the state crimes. (Michelle Malkin also erroneously reported that Boyd was charged in the murders, kidnappings, and rapes of Christian and Newsom.)
Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas were also charged federally with carjacking and two counts of federal weapons felonies, but at the request of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, a federal judge dismissed the federal charges “without prejudice” (meaning that they may later be reinstated), so that the Tennessee state prosecutions could go forward first.
Having separate, consecutive trials offers potential advantages to prosecutors. Earlier defendants may seek to impute all guilt for the crimes they are charged with to defendants who have yet to be tried, and may provide a wealth of information that can be used against their alleged accomplices. Or they could simply be fonts of misinformation and lies.
For an example of such gamesmanship in the present case, when Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas were initially apprehended in Lebanon, KY, they reportedly claimed in affidavits to federal agents that Eric Boyd was in fact the rapist-murderer. So much for loyalty or gratitude.
It is not known whether Cobbins or Thomas has of late made any public expressions of love to Boyd. Some black supremacist activists have, however, publicly expressed their love for Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas.
The more one learns about this case, the less justifiable the four-month-long national media blackout becomes. One could devote entire three-hour blocks of cable news time exclusively to this story, without ever having to use the endless loops or even partial repeat passages on which cable news relies for filler with big stories, while enjoying blockbuster ratings. How did the media suddenly develop an allergy to making money?