Knoxville Horror Prosecutions Spinning Out of Control?
Knoxville County (TN) Criminal
Court Judge Richard Baumgartner had better get a grip.
This jurist, who since early 2007 has been presiding
over all four state murder trials in the
Knoxville Horror (KH) case—the January 7, 2007
carjacking-kidnapping-gang-rape-torture-murders by black
criminals of white couple Channon Christian and
Christopher Newsom—is in danger of losing control of his
courtroom. After permitting dithering and brinksmanship
on the part of prosecution and defense to force him to
postpone the respective cases for a year, Baumgartner
found himself forced to replace a negligent defender in
the first scheduled case, and hence postpone it (and
thus all the others) yet another six months. Meanwhile,
the defense attempt to sandbag another KH trial with
specious constitutional objections
has gained a sympathetic ear from Judge Baumgartner.
Each of the four black defendants—Letalvis
Cobbins, Cobbins` girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, George
Thomas and Cobbins` half-brother, Lemaricus Davidson—is
being tried separately in consecutive trials. All but
Coleman have court-appointed, private attorneys; Coleman
secured private counsel. Because each is on trial for
Rule 13 of the Tennessee Supreme Court provides that
each must have two death penalty-certified defense
That rule has proven the greatest
boon to Tennessee private criminal bar since the U.S.
Supreme Court`s 1963 decision in
v. Wainwright forced the states to provide counsel
to indigent defendants in all felony cases. At
$75-100 per hour per attorney for top private
defenders, plus expert, prosecution, document and court
costs, by my reckoning the case has already cost humble
over $2 million, before any trial has even begun.
Letalvis Cobbins` case comes first.
On November 7, Judge Baumgartner removed co-counsel,
Bruce Poston, due to Poston`s neglect of Cobbins`
defense (particularly Poston`s failure to meet the
deadline for filing a motion to suppress Cobbins`
statement to police); scheduled Poston, whom he said he
friend, for a contempt hearing; and replaced him as
Cobbins` co-counsel with local attorney Scott Green.
(Kim Parton has served from the start as Cobbins` lead
judge noted that, like
the late [James] Brown, Poston is considered the
hardest-working man in the defense bar when it comes to
criminal trials but doesn`t devote much time to the more
mundane work of filing motions and appeals." [Attorney
accused of failing to devote time to defense, by
Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News-Sentinel,
November 8, 2008.]
On February 25,
Judge Baumgartner ruled that Cobbins` statement is
admissible. In Cobbins` statement, he placed himself
at the scene of the crime, but denied having committed
any crimes, which he blamed on his half-brother,
Lemaricus Davidson. So much for family loyalty.
In the event of a conviction,
Cobbins could appeal with a new lawyer, arguing that due
to Poston`s failure he received ineffective assistance
of counsel, which could potentially be grounds for
Green`s need to familiarize himself
with Cobbins` case necessitated yet another postponement
of the trial. Green soon sought to be removed from the
case, and in February
"filed a motion asking for a complete media blackout
on pre-trial hearings, or to be removed from the case,"
death threats against him and his family on WBIR`s
In the meantime,
Cobbins has also been charged with misdemeanor assault
alleged attack on Knox County Sheriff`s Office jailer
Bryan Hackett on February 2.
In the second scheduled trial,
"defense attorneys for Vanessa Coleman seek to
statements [Coleman] made to police when she was
arrested in Kentucky in January 2007," which
incriminated herself, Davidson, Thomas and Cobbins.
Prosecutors earlier offered Coleman a plea bargain
of a sentence of life in prison with the possibility of
parole, in exchange for a guilty plea and her thorough,
"truthful" testimony at her co-defendants`
trials; she rejected the offer. Prosecutors have offered
no plea bargains to Coleman`s co-defendants.
Lemaricus Davidson`s trial is due
third. His attorneys have largely kept their own
That leaves George Thomas. His
attorneys, Thomas Dillard and co-counsel, Stephen Ross
last May petitioned the court "to dismiss the request
for the death penalty," asserting that it was
racially biased; their petition was apparently rejected.
In late February,
petitioned Judge Baumgartner to force two Knoxville
media outlets to censor their respective Websites.
Dillard is demanding that the Knoxville News Sentinel
newspaper and NBC affiliate WBIR ensure that each poster
provides his real name and address, and review each post
prior to publishing it, to ensure that it is not
"inflammatory," prejudicial, or otherwise liable to
taint the jury pool.
If Baumgartner rules in Thomas`
favor, he will be
imposing state censorship of the sort known as
While the News-Sentinel and WBIR
are private companies, since the limitations on their
respective message boards would be imposed by the state,
said limitations would entail state censorship.
In my opinion, Dillard`s petition
is without merit, based on four factors:
That ship has sailed. The most prejudicial statements
imaginable were posted to Internet message boards in
early 2007, shortly following the murders. Baseless
asserted that the killers had sexually mutilated the
presumably still living victims, lopping off Christopher
Newsom`s penis, and one of Channon Christian`s breasts.
In the course of researching
my first article on the case, for American
Renaissance, I was able
to track these rumors back to white
supremacist/neo-Nazi/whatever Internet broadcaster, Hal
The facts of the crime, however, were so gruesome
that the phony rumors were unnecessary. And if anyone
was guilty of promoting an atmosphere conducive to wild
rumor-mongering, it was
the Knoxville PD, which suppressed most of the facts
of the case. I find it hard to believe that over two
years later, new postings could change Knoxvillians`
attitudes towards the crime;
The focus on local Knoxville media outlets bespeaks of a
pre-Internet mentality. But the Internet is everywhere.
True and false claims alike about the case, posted by
people from around the world, are available at scores,
if not hundreds of
blogs and Web sites;
Internet prejudice has cut both ways. Supporters of the
made the baseless assertion that Christian was
"cruising" in a bad part of town, or looking to buy
drugs, as if such claims would justify the crimes
committed against her and Newsom, even if they were
No can do. Both the First Amendment and
U.S. Code, Title 47, Section 230 forbid the
suggested censorship. The First Amendment forbids prior
restraint, and Section 230 holds that media outlets that
have message boards or the like are "common carriers"—specifically,
"interactive computer services"—just like
Internet service providers such as AOL, and are not
"publishers." Thus, they are not liable for false or
libelous statements made by people using their
services. It is precisely the Section 230 loophole that
Wikipedia/The Pretend Encyclopedia to function
as a libel factory.
Dillard`s claims are specious; he
is likely laying the groundwork to later argue
reversible error on appeal, should his client be
convicted. Should Judge Baumgartner yield to such
entreaties, he will find himself on a path to folly.
If Baumgartner is worried about the
jury being prejudicially influenced, he could sequester
it and prevent it from having any Internet access.
However, sequestered jurors have the right to conjugal
visits. During previous high profile trials, visiting
spouses were suspected of passing along prejudicial
information. The best path is to reject Dillard`s
arguments, and just get on with the trials. Judge
Baumgartner has not yet said when he will rule on the
matter. (Thanks to reader JC, for alerting me about this
Procedurally speaking, the
strongest defense motion yet was made on March 13 by one
of Lemaricus Davidson`s lawyers, Douglas Trant. He
argued that the January 9, 2007 search of the
since-demolished house at 2316 Chipman Street, where
the gang-rapes and torture of the victims and
Christian`s murder had been committed, was
illegal—because the lead case investigator had signed
the second page of the search warrant, but not the
this search warrant is not valid, I would submit for
that reason the burden should then shift to the state,`
Davidson`s attorney Douglas Trant said.
“Defense attorneys for Davidson say because Knoxville
Police Officer Todd Childress did not sign the first
page of a search warrant, then the
Court should not allow the search warrant or evidence
discovered by the search.
signature line is cut off. Childress said he did not
realize there was supposed to be a signature line on the
second page is signed by Officer Childress and Judge
Tony Stansbury." [Update:
Judge to decide if search in the Christian and Newsom
murders was legal by Yvette Martinez, WBIR,
March 14, 2009.]
To put this amazing claim in
perspective, remember police had previously found a bank
envelope with Lemaricus Davidson`s fingerprint on it
inside of Channon Christian`s dumped SUV, knew
Davidson`s address, and he was already wanted for an
Since most of the incriminating
evidence, including Channon Christian`s corpse, was
found at the house on Chipman Street, Davidson`s dream
outcome would be the
suppression of all such evidence. Would prosecutors
then have to proceed as if Channon Christian`s body had
never been found, and not show the jury the photographs
of her wounds? And since the suspects` crucial
interrogation statements, which Judge Baumgartner has
permitted into the record, were all taken by law
enforcement based on what the latter had learned at the
house on Chipman Street, would the falling dominoes
knock them down, as well?
Many Northerners assume that
Volunteer State is backwards. But Tennessee is
actually one of the most sophisticated, progressive
states in the Union, when it comes to encouraging the
manipulation of the criminal justice system. Filing
defense motions during a capital trial in Tennessee is
like throwing spaghetti against a wall. The more motions
you throw, the more likely that one will stick—on
review, if not during the trial itself.
One study found that from
1977-1995, Tennessee Courts of Appeals reversed 32 out
of the 109 capital cases it reviewed on direct appeal
"for errors made during the trials."[PDF
] According to a 1999 Tennessee Supreme Court finding
State v. Ferguson), the state constitution`s
due process protections are stronger than those
contained in the U.S. Constitution
Former Tennessee Attorney General Paul G. Summers
(1999-2006) once observed that the state`s appellate
death penalty process is "one of the most lengthy
criminal appeals processes in the United States."
Assuming Judge Baumgartner doesn`t
let defense counsel walk all over him, I expect
Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas all to be convicted on
some of the 46 felony charges against each.
At press time the case against
Davidson is airtight—with DNA evidence tying him to
Christian, and statements by all four co-defendants
claiming he carried out one murder, and at minimum,
ordered the other murder. Thus I give Davidson a 90
percent chance of being sentenced to death. But in the
diversity, no capital case sentence of a black or
Hispanic defendant is a foregone conclusion.
DNA evidence ties Cobbins to
Christian, but as no co-defendant statements claim he
carried out either killing, I give him a 50 percent
chance of getting a death sentence.
No DNA evidence ties Thomas to
Christian, but co-defendant statements claim he admitted
to killing Newsom. Thus, I also give him a 50 percent
chance of getting the death penalty.
Considering that no DNA evidence
ties Coleman to either victim, no co-defendant statement
has her killing either victim,
self-presentation in her police statements as a hapless,
terrified prisoner of the men (her transparent lies
and self-contradictions notwithstanding), and the
preferential treatment black females routinely enjoy in
matters of the law, I give Coleman zero chance of being
sentenced to death. She might even skate on all 40
felony counts against her.
Presently, the trials are slated to
begin on July 6 (Cobbins); August 10 (Coleman);
September 21 (Davidson); and December 2 (Thomas),
Eric Boyd was convicted last April 16 in a federal
trial, and sentenced to 18 years in prison, as an
accessory after the fact to carjacking. Boyd will appeal
his conviction; I have argued that
the mess from his trial may be spilling over for some
time to come.
With the exception of Coleman, the
defendants are certainly getting the taxpayers` money`s
worth, as are the defense attorneys.
But are the taxpayers?
In the dock for this racial
atrocity we have men whose days, when they are not in
are spent hurtling from one violent crime against
hardworking citizens to another, buying food and drugs
with the proceeds from those crimes, having sex (whether
through consent or rape), falling asleep, and starting a
new series of crimes the next day; and a drifter of a
woman who is content to go along for the ride.
A sane, decent, prudent society
seeks to limit both the number of such people, and the
damage they can do.
Nicholas Stix [email
him] lives in New York City, which he
views from the perspective of its public
transport system, experienced in his
career as an educator. His weekly column
Men`s News Daily
and many other Web sites. He has also
written for Middle American News, the