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Family members of two torture-slaying victims say they are sustaining another slight at the hands of the judicial system – which already has forced them to endure retrials of those accused in the case.
This time, the judge in the trial of one of the suspects in the deaths of Chris Newsom, 23, and Channon Christian, 21, has told their family members not to wear buttons they created honoring their lost loved ones if they sit at the front of the courtroom where George Thomas now is on trial for the deaths.
WND was among the first to report on the case that has garnered attention for the horrific black-on-white violence that destroyed the lives of the two people who had been dating just a short time. Investigators say Christian and Newsom were 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 Knox News reported two years ago after the first round of trials in which the suspects were found guilty that new trials would have to be held because the judge was presiding over the cases “while trysting in his office, cutting drug deals with felons on a taxpayer-funded cell phone and snorting pain pills with a former drug court probationer.”
So the court hearings were restarted, and now Senior Judge Walter Kurtz, hearing the evidence against suspect George Thomas, said family members may wear photo buttons they created to honor their loved ones – but they then must sit several rows back from the front bench in the courtroom.
Christian’s father, Gary Christian, said he no longer will sit in an area of the courtroom near where the defendant and his attorneys sit in the Knoxville, Tenn., courtroom.
|Carjacking victims Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom|
The trial for Thomas may be the end of the case. Alleged co-conspirator Vanessa Coleman also had been granted a new trial because of the earlier judge’s actions, and was convicted in a second trial and sentenced to 35 years.
Earlier convictions for Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins stood because of the physical evidence that linked them to the crimes.
Defendant No. 5, Eric DeWayne Boyd was found guilty of being an accessory and sentenced to 18 years.
Davidson was given the death penalty. Cobbins was given life in prison, the sentence for Thomas before a new trial was ordered.
Judge Richard Baumgartner, the judge whose misbehavior sparked the retrials, later pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned.
The attack happened when such black-on-white violence was just starting to gain attention, and grabbed the headlines because of the extreme violence involved.
The brutalized bodies of the victims showed evidence that the attackers had tried to destroy DNA evidence by dousing Christian with bleach and Newsom’s body was burned beyond recognition.
|L to R, Eric Boyd, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Letalvis Cobbins, and Vanessa Coleman|
The suspects were arrested within a few days of the attack in the Knoxville and Lebanon areas.
Prosecutors have explained the suspects carjacked the couple and decided to get rid of Newsom before pursuing their sexual attack on Christian.
Comments posted on a variety of websites by the public showed the level of disgust that developed. One writer said a lethal injection would be too good, and “a public quartering would send a message to other dirt bags that society will not tolerate such atrocities.”
Attorneys for the defendants actually tried to have such comments censored.