Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Torture Murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom

Trials and Convictions

Letalvis Cobbins.
Letalvis Cobbins.
George Thomas.
George Thomas.
On August 25, 2009, a Davidson County jury (there was too much media coverage to find an impartial jury in Knox County, so a jury was bused in from Nashville and sequestered) convicted 26-year-old Letalvis Cobbins of the first-degree murder and rape of Channon Christian (he was acquitted of the Newsom rape counts and convicted of a lesser facilitation charge in regard to Newsom's death). Prosecutors had called Cobbins the second-in-command during the crimes, and had used forensic investigation to link Cobbins' DNA to the victims' remains. Cobbins took the stand in his own defense, telling jurors that he had consensual oral sex with Christian — offered with the promise that he would set her free afterward. But he conceded that he left her in captivity afterward — and admitted that he was present when Christian was stuffed in the garbage can and left to die. Jurors ultimately opted to spare Cobbins from the death penalty and instead found he should be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The next defendant to stand trial was 28-year-old Lemaricus Davidson, the man who rented the house in which the crimes took place and who, prosecutors said, planned the rapes and murders. At trial, the State linked Davidson to a fingerprint in Christian's Toyota and to the gun believed to be the murder weapon in Newsom's murder. Davidson's DNA was found on Christian, but not on Newsom. On October 28, 2009, Davidson was convicted on 35 of 38 total counts — he was not convicted of raping Newsom — including the first-degree murders of both victims. The penalty phase started the next day; the jury was sent back to decide Davidson's fate on October 30, 2009. After approximately three hours of deliberation, the panel sentenced the ringleader to death by lethal injection.

George Thomas, 26, was a friend of Letalvis Cobbins and the third man to be tried for the murder/rape of Christian and Newsom. Thomas' defense attorneys had the best shot at an acquittal thus far as there was no DNA, fingerprint or eyewitness evidence against their client. Thomas had admitted being in the Chipman Street house at the time, but denied taking part in any crimes against the couple. Regardless, the evidence was strong enough for a Hamilton County jury to hand down 38 guilty verdicts, including first-degree murder, rape, robbery, and kidnapping. The verdict came on December 8, 2009 — two days later that same jury recommended Thomas serve a sentence of life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

The last trial would be the most difficult for prosecutors. 21-year-old Vanessa Coleman, Letalvis Cobbins' girlfriend, admitted being at the house and witnessing the strangling of Channon Christian. But she said she was paralyzed by fear, that she had been threatened with harm if she tried to leave and alert authorities. Moreover, there was no forensic evidence linking her to either victim. On May 13, 2010, Coleman was acquitted of the first-degree murder of Christian and of all charges pertaining to Newsom. However, she was convicted of facilitation in the murder and rapes of Christian. On July 30, 2010, Judge Richard Baumgartner rejected the defense's plea for leniency and sentenced Coleman to 53 years behind bars.

With the last of the trials done and the defendants behind bars for decades, the terrible story seemed to be over. But this case had been sensational from the start... and there would be more controversy to come.

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