Jurors in Knoxville, Tenn., have begun hearing arguments in a trial over the grisly deaths of a white couple – allegedly at the hands of a gang of black men and one woman who tried to conceal DNA evidence by dousing one victim with bleach.
Carjacking victims Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
The victims of what apparently started out as a carjacking were Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. Authorities have said the couple was out on a Jan. 6, 2007, date and were in the process of leaving a friend’s apartment complex.
Christian reportedly was sitting at the wheel of her Toyota SUV and Newsom was at her side in the open door, kissing her, when they were attacked by the armed gang members.
According to court documents, the two were tied up, blindfolded and taken to one defendant’s rental home. Shortly thereafter, Newsom was sexually assaulted, shot in the head, set on fire and his body was left beside railroad tracks. The attackers allegedly took 24 hours to kill Christian, raping her multiple times and spraying bleach in her mouth to destroy evidence before stuffing her in plastic and dumping her in a closed trash can.
The case has stirred further controversy by its conspicuous lack of coverage in many national media outlets. While local news agencies have covered the attack, few national outlets have documented the alleged attack by a black gang on the white couple.
Media critics have noted the massive coverage given to the alleged white-on-black Duke lacrosse rape case that had developed about the same time.
The suspects in the Tennessee horror were arrested within a few days in the Knoxville and Lebanon areas.
They have been identified as Eric Boyd, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Letalvis Cobbins and Vanessa Coleman.
L to R, Eric Boyd, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Letalvis Cobbins, and Vanessa Coleman
Jurors, who have been bused in and are being sequestered because of the issues in the case, are examining evidence in Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner’s courtroom, including a photograph of Newsom’s body – burned from head to toe. His face was burned beyond recognition.
Arson investigator Robert Watson has concluded it was likely gasoline was poured directly on Newsom before he was ignited, according to a report in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
On trial is Letalvis Cobbins, whose attorney, Scott Green, told jurors in his opening statement that Cobbins is a coward and a rapist but not a killer.
Prosecutors have explained the suspects carjacked the couple and decided to get rid of Newsom before pursuing their sexual attack on Christian.
Cobbins’ attorney is maneuvering to save Cobbins’ life, since Cobbins has pleaded guilty to facilitating the murder.
Davidson, Thomas and Coleman await trial. While Boyd has been accused in the case, he has not been formally charged with murder, authorities said. Boyd, however, was convicted of two counts of being an accessory.
While the jury is expected to hear arguments over the course of two weeks, in the court of public opinion, the defendants already had been convicted.
“Have a slow, painful, agonizing death,” wrote a forum page participant at the News Sentinel.
Wrote another, “It’s a good day for a hanging.”
On the forum page for columnist Michelle Malkin, further comments included:
“There are problems with the death penalty, but if it doesn’t apply in this case, then it never applies.”
“These monsters didn’t just brutally kill two young people, they killed the peace of mind of four loving parents. My heart goes out to them.”
“These … animals should suffer the same fate as their victims. A lethal injection is too good for them.”
“I would not be opposed to going Medieval … A public quartering would send a message to other dirt bags that society will not tolerate such atrocities.”
“It is an injustice that when the death penalty is carried out on these feral animals, it will be quick and painless. It should be long and brutal, and their last words should be a pain-wracked pleading for an end to their misery. Sorry, but that is exactly how I feel.”
Such comments were the target of concerns expressed earlier by the judge in the case.
Baumgartner had suggested some control over the website comments, drawing a response from an attorney for the News Sentinel that such limits would infringe on the First Amendment.
The issue arose when Thomas Dillard, attorney for suspect Thomas, filed a petition asking the judge to either ban media websites from allowing readers to post comments about the case or to require the news organizations to “continuously monitor, in real time” comments. Dillard wanted the websites to allow only comments made under poster’s actual names and only those that would be deemed “printable and publishable by the news outlet personnel themselves.”
An attorney for WBIR-TV, which along with the News Sentinel was specifically named in the petition, argued that the “comments” sections of their websites constitute a “giant bulletin board” and as such is protected by the First Amendment.
When the case originally developed, WND reported an indictment named the defendants on nearly 50 counts of kidnapping, gang-rape, murder and theft.