Carjacking victims Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom

Trial dates have been set for four suspects in a horrific abduction and murder case that has sparked an Internet-wide rage over the violence of the attack as well as the fact that the suspects are black, the victims white.

Knox County, Tenn., Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner confirmed during a just-concluded hearing defendant Letalvis “Rome” Cobbins, 24, will go to trial starting May 12, 2008, on dozens of counts alleging he abducted, assaulted and murdered Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23.

Subsequent trial dates has been scheduled June 16 for Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 19; July 14 for Lemaricus “Slim” Davidson, 25; and Aug. 11 for alleged ringleader George “Detroit” Thomas, 24.

Christian’s family also has spoken out now about the case, telling WATE Television that while the attack was horrific, many of the gruesome details running rampant in e-mails on the Internet are not accurate.

Channon’s father, Gary Christian, told the station he cannot comment on what he knows about the investigation, but 75 percent of the details being circulated simply aren’t true. Authorities, after an initial round of statements, have declined to provide current information on the circumstances of the deaths, and the public apparently will wait for the truth until testimony begins in the trials.

Another status hearing is scheduled Sept. 27 for the suspects, who must be tried separately because they have made statements implicating each other, according to the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

“Everybody is of the opinion these cases can’t be tried together and that there should be separate trials,” Baumgartner said.

Knox County Assistant District Attorney Leland Price, however, said prosecutors hadn’t yet determined whether they would seek the death penalty in a case many bloggers have classified a “hate crime” because of the facts of the black-on-white attack.

Baumgartner said it is important to make the decision on the penalty being sought soon, because it changes how the court needs to handle the cases. Attorneys certified to handle capital cases already have been appointed to represent Cobbins, Davidson and Thomas. Coleman’s parents have hired two lawyers, but their certification wasn’t immediately available.

L to R, Eric Boyd, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Letalvis Cobbins, and Vanessa Coleman

An indictment naming the defendants on nearly 50 counts of kidnapping, robbery, gang-rape, murder and theft alleges the victims were abducted, assaulted and tortured repeatedly over a period – probably of days – before being shot and killed.

Court records do indicate Christian and Newsom initially were the targets of a carjacking in January, but ended up being held hostage, beaten and raped. Records report Newsom eventually was shot and killed and his burned body was found dumped near some railroad tracks not far from Davidson’s home.

Records released early in the investigation showed Christian was strangled, her body wrapped in plastic bags and left in a trash can in the home.

An affidavit seeking a search warrant for Davidson’s house was submitted by Investigator Todd Childress, who described finding Newsom’s body wrapped in a sheet or comforter and that Newsom’s shoes, socks and identification were missing from the burned body.

The warrant was sought after Christian’s Toyota 4-Runner was located, and Davidson’s fingerprint was found inside the vehicle, authorities reported.

Responding to the home, the officer found the front door ajar, and a body – later identified as Christian – inside a large trash can in the kitchen.

Gary Christian describes the suspects as “wild animals.”

“It’s not different from hunting back in East Texas, sitting in a deer stand and looking at a pack of wild dogs. They just bring them in one at a time,” he told the station.

The Internet allegations of the viciousness of the attack have brought the family letters and condolences from around the world, including Chile and Switzerland, Gary Christian said.

“I believe in my heart that wild animals come in lots of different colors. The end result is they’re still wild animals,” Gary Christian said. “I could care less if they were pink or purple or whatever color they were. They took our child. They took our daughter. They took Chris, took away from [the] Newsom family,” Channon’s mother, Deena added.

Internet reports, whose accuracy has been challenged not only by the Christian family but also local authorities, reported that Newsom’s penis had been severed and the attackers cut a breast off of Christian’s body. One investigator also said Christian’s body was found in pieces, according to the Internet reports.

The grand jury indictment does, however, allege that Christian was raped vaginally, orally and anally and Newsom was raped anally, clearly indicative of an extreme level of violence in the case.

Authorities say Eric Boyd, 24, also arrested in connection with the fatal carjacking, faces only charges as an accessory after the fact. He was not indicted by Knox county grand jury.

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