On tape: Crying Cobbins tries to deny involvement in murders

On tape: Crying Cobbins tries to deny involvement in murders

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Letalvis Cobbins Letalvis Cobbins
Judge Richard Baumgartner Judge Richard Baumgartner
Natasha Hays testified that she wasn't aware of the killings, but overheard Cobbins say, "if I go down I'm taking you all with me." Natasha Hays testified that she wasn't aware of the killings, but overheard Cobbins say, "if I go down I'm taking you all with me."
Attorney Scott Green asked Detective Nevil Norman if that's "deceptive?" Norman agreed that you could consider it that way. Attorney Scott Green asked Detective Nevil Norman if that's "deceptive?" Norman agreed that you could consider it that way.
"I'd be crying too if I was him," Gary Christian said. "I'd be crying too if I was him," Gary Christian said.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Between crying and yelling, Letalvis Cobbins was heard on tape Wednesday first telling investigators he had nothing to do with the carjacking, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in 2007.

Cobbins is the first of four suspects to be tried for the killings.

The other suspects who are charged are: Lemaricus Duvall Davidson (Cobbins' half brother), George Giovanni Thomas and Vanessa Coleman.

All four defendants could face the death penalty if they're convicted. They're being tried separately.

Clearing up witness immunity

Before the jury was brought in Wednesday morning, the attorneys argued about testimony given by Vincent Wernimont on Tuesday.

Vincent Wernimont had testified that he thought federal authorities granted him immunity. He was recalled to the stand after the jury came in Wednesday and testified that he understood he wasn't granted immunity.

Witness: Cobbins said, "If I go down, I'm taking you all with me."

Natasha Hays was called to the stand. She lived in Kentucky and knew Cobbins, Vanessa Coleman, George Thomas and Stacey Lawson, who testified Tuesday. Hays said she came to Knoxville with the group at times.

Hays said she met Davidson in mid-December 2007.

Cobbins stayed at Hays' house after the murders. She testified that she wasn't aware of the killings, but overheard him say, "if I go down I'm taking you all with me."

That was apparently after he had learned on the Internet that investigators were looking for him and Davidson in connection to the crimes.

Before the jury was brought in, the attorneys argued over testimony the state said Hays could provide that she found a gun hidden under her bed after Cobbins was arrested. Investigators believe it was hidden by Vanessa Coleman.

Judge Richard Baumgartner decided to block the testimony, saying it wasn't the gun used to kill Newsom so testimony about it is irrelevant.

ATF agent: gun not found at first

ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner was called to the stand. He participated in the arrest of Cobbins and the others in Kentucky at Natasha Hays' house on January 11, 2007.

Waggoner said no gun was found during the first search of Hays' house.

Agent Waggoner also testified that he helped search the Chipman Street house where Christian's body was found. He confiscated a bottle of bleach there and identified a pair of pink high heeled shoes as evidence.

On Waggoner's cross examination, the defense established that Cobbins was with officers at all times and was cooperative.

Trooper confiscated computer during Cobbins' arrest

Kentucky State Police Trooper Donnie Moses testified on taking part in the arrest of Cobbins.

Moses said he confiscated a computer at Natasha Hays' house after checking the history on it, which included a news site. Investigators had released mug shots of Davidson and Cobbins, saying they were looking for them after Christian's Toyota 4Runner was found.

Moses testified that Cobbins threw away a knit hat he said Davidson gave him during his arrest. The hat was taken into evidence.

Recorded questioning: Cobbins denies involvement

When Knox County Sheriff's Office Detective Nevil Norman took the stand, the state played a the first hour of a recording of Cobbins in custody being questioned by investigators. Jurors were given transcripts.

Cobbins was heard saying, "That's a lie!" when he was told Davidson's girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, said he was the Chipman Street house when Christian was still alive.

J.J. Jones, who's now Knox County sheriff, was also present during the questioning. He told Cobbins, "We know you were at Chipman on Sunday."

Cobbins responded, "We weren't at that house period." He said his brother was talking about carjacking and robbing and he didn't want any part of it so he left the Chipman Street home.

Cobbins is heard repeatedly saying he's not lying. "I'm giving you the opportunity to tell the truth," Jones told him. "We know you're not telling the truth."

Cobbins said, "He (Davidson) was going to do some crazy s***." 

"I think your brother tripped out and you were there," Jones told him.

Cobbins eventually admitted being in Christian's SUV after she and Newsom were carjacked. "We're getting there," Jones told him.

As investigators continued to grill him, Cobbins said through tears, "I ain't done, man."

They told him again that Sutton's questioning put him at the house along with the other three suspects. Cobbins insisted that she lied and said, "I didn't do this."

Jones asked him why Sutton would be covering for Davidson since she put him at the scene. Cobbins said he didn't know.

Cobbins often cried, sometimes spoke with a breaking voice and even let out a few high pitched screams. At times, he was impossible to understand. His own attorney said later Cobbins was "crying like a little girl."

Judge denies to declare mistrial

After the recording, defense attorney Scott Green entered a motion asking Judge Baumgartner to declare a mistrial on the grounds that Jones discussed what Davidson told him while questioning Cobbins.

Green said that was hearsay and the state should have edited those parts of the tape out before playing them in court.

Judge Baumgartner denied the motion.

More questioning: Cobbins describes carjacking

After a lunch break, the state played the second hour of Cobbins' interrogation.

He slowly began to open up, saying that Davidson said he was going on a robbing spree and to carjack some people. Cobbins said Davidson asked him to join in, but he said, "I love you, but I'm not dying for you, bro."

On the night of the carjacking, Cobbins claimed he was in a car with Davidson and he thinks Eric Boyd, who was later convicted as an accessory to the murders and sentenced to 18 years.

Cobbins said they went to Washington Ridge Apartments and Davidson and Boyd went up to Christian's SUV and carjacked it as the couple was kissing. He said he followed the SUV back to Chipman Street.

Cobbins said he left and returned later to find white "dude" (Newsom) and Boyd (?) gone. He also said the white girl (Christian) was with Davidson.

Cobbins described Christian sitting in the living room and told Jones, "She looked terrified."

Cobbins said Davidson and Boyd brought Christian and Newsom into the house and tied them up. He also said Boyd left later with Newsom and a gun to his back.

Cobbins claimed Davidson took Christian, who was blindfolded with her hands tied, into a bedroom. He said later he saw her sitting in the living room without a blindfold.

Cobbins said he left the house with Coleman and Thomas and when he returned the next afternoon, the couple was gone.

Lying to suspects during questioning

After the tape ended, attorney Scott Green questioned Detective Nevil Norman about telling the truth to suspects during interviews. He asked if you have to tell them things that may not be entirely true. Nevil agreed.

Green then asked Nevil if that's "deceptive?" Nevil agreed that you could consider it that way.

Green also asked, "Is lying equal to murder? Norman replied, "I can't answer that."

Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price countered by asking Norman if suspects lie to get out of trouble.

Several forensic investigators testify

The state called several forensic experts to the stand Wednesday afternoon.

Knoxville police crime scene investigator Kim Price testified on photographing the Newsom crime scene. She said after the autopsy, she collected three bullets from his body and a belt used to bind his feet.

A former TBI technician, Genevieve Ritchie, testified on the bureau's involvement in the evidence.

And Warren Hamblin, with the police department, testified on confiscating a pair of jeans and other items that were sent to TBI.

A police department firearms expert testified that she can't say whether bullets from Newsom's body were fired from a gun linked to Cobbins. She said it's likely that only one gun was used to shoot Newsom.

Victim's family not moved by Cobbins' tears

Channon Christian's parents said they had no sympathy listening to Cobbins' interrogation.

They described his admissions as one lie after another, finally getting to the truth that he was involved in the carjacking that led to the murders.

"He may be a coward, but he did what he did and he knows he did it and he needs to pay for it," Deena Christian said.

"I'd be crying too if I was him," Gary Christian said.

"He got caught. He got busted. That's why he was crying, not because he was scared of his brother," Deena added.

Mother of another Knoxville murder victim in court

Joan Berry drove up from Atlanta and attended the Cobbins trial Wednesday. Her daughter, Johnia Berry, was stabbed several times in a home invasion at her West Knox County apartment in 2004.

Taylor Lee Olson, of Knoxville, was arrested and charged with Berry's murder in September 2007, but he hanged himself in jail in March 2008 before he went to trial.

Olson named another suspect in a letter, but no other arrests have been made.

"My heart will always be broken. You want to do something to help, but you just feel helpless," Berry said.

She added that she felt blessed not to have to sit through her daughter's murder trial.


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