Judge clears up guilty pleas for Letalvis Cobbins

Judge clears up guilty pleas for Letalvis Cobbins

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Letalvis Cobbins being sworn in so the judge can clarify his guilty pleas Letalvis Cobbins being sworn in so the judge can clarify his guilty pleas
Deena and Gary Christian hear Cobbins' description of their daughter being held against her will. Deena and Gary Christian hear Cobbins' description of their daughter being held against her will.
Mary and Hugh Newsom listened as the rape of their son, Chris, which had no DNA match, was discussed. Mary and Hugh Newsom listened as the rape of their son, Chris, which had no DNA match, was discussed.
Chris Newsom's head was covered by burned sweatshirt material, Detective Todd Childress said. When the material was removed, investigators found a gag in Newsom's mouth and removed it. Chris Newsom's head was covered by burned sweatshirt material, Detective Todd Childress said. When the material was removed, investigators found a gag in Newsom's mouth and removed it.
Randall Nelson, with the TBI, testified that Christian's white camisole tested positive for bleach on stains that turned out to be semen. Randall Nelson, with the TBI, testified that Christian's white camisole tested positive for bleach on stains that turned out to be semen.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Judge Richard Baumgartner cleared up what the guilty pleas mean and what could still happen for Letalvis Cobbins on Thursday during his murder trial.

Before testimony started Monday, Cobbins pleaded guilty to lesser charges of rape, facilitation of kidnapping and aiding theft.

Cobbins is the first of four suspects to be tried for the carjacking, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in 2007.

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.

Revolver found at house where Davidson was arrested

First on the stand was crime scene investigator Gerald Smith, with the police department. He testified that he photographed the house at 1800 Reynolds Street where Davidson was arrested.

Smith said he noticed a broken window. The house was empty and he confiscated 23 items including clothing, binoculars and a .22 caliber revolver without ammunition.

Security officer saw suspects at apartments

The state called Sam Burn, Jr., the security officer at Washington Ridge Apartments, to the stand. The apartments are where Christian and Newsom were carjacked in her Toyota 4Runner.

Burn said he saw Cobbins and Davidson at the apartments on the weekend of the crimes and had seen them several times in December 2006 and early January 2007.

Burn testified that on the night of the carjacking, he saw Davidson walking toward the apartment rented by Lynn Freeman, who he'd bought furniture from.

Freeman testified earlier in the trial that she was expecting him to pay her that night and he never arrived.

Burn said he saw Cobbins was in the car with Davidson and got a "bad vibe" from them. Defense attorney Scott Green objected to this and Judge Baumgartner agreed that it was speculative.

Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald later asked Burn if Cobbins seemed scared on the night of the crimes and he said, "No."

Cobbins denied having sex with victim

Police investigator Steve Still was called to stand. He helped take Cobbins statement after his arrest in Kentucky and he took DNA from Cobbins.

Still testified that Cobbins talked about the carjacking and denied having sex with Christian.

Still said Cobbins told him that he saw Davidson and Eric Boyd carjack the couple. Boyd was convicted as an accessory in this case in October 2008 and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

He also said Cobbins claimed Boyd took Newsom away from the Chipman Street house, where Christian's body was found, and came back alone.

Audio tape of Cobbins' police questioning

The state played an audio tape of Cobbins being questioned by police. He identified Boyd taking part in the carjacking and leading Newsom from the Chipman Street house.

Cobbins again claimed he didn't know the carjacking was about to take place. He said Davidson and Boyd did it. He also said this during questioning by sheriff's office investigators that was played in court Wednesday.

After the carjacking, Cobbins said they returned to the Chipman Street house with Christian and Newsom. "Their hands were tied and they were blindfolded."

"I go in the house and started talking to G (George Thomas). I'm like, man they just did something crazy," Cobbins said.

Cobbins said he saw Christian sitting in living room chair and, "I say bro, what is you doing?"

Cobbins claimed he was in Knoxville to "reunite" with Davidson, adding, "He's been in and out of jail his whole life."

When asked if he knew what happened to the couple, Cobbins said, "Dude got shot, don't know about girl." But later, he said he heard her crying in a bedroom saying, "No, no."

Cobbins claimed he didn't have sex with Christian, only gave her water. He said he didn't try to stop what was done to her because, "I was scared."

Cobbins also continued to claim that Davidson's then girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, lied about seeing him at the Chipman Street house when she came to get her possessions. Sutton had moved out previously, she testified earlier this week.

Cobbins said Boyd left the house with Newsom and came back in "20 minutes. I ain't asked no questions."

Cobbins also claimed Boyd spent time in the bedroom with Christian, then left.

In the defense's cross examination of Still, attorney Scott Green described Cobbins as "a coward" and his lack of action as the "act of a coward." Still agreed.

Green also asked Still if forced oral sex constitutes murder and Still answered, "No."

On its redirect, the prosecution suggested Cobbins acted the way he did because he's a murderer.

Newsom's burned, bound body found

Police Detective Todd Childress was called to the stand. He testified that he was called to the scene where Newsom's burned, bound body was found near the train tracks close to Chipman Street before it was identified.

Childress said he called the Knox County Medical Examiner's office.

Newsom's head was covered by burned sweatshirt material, Childress said. When the material was removed, investigators found a gag in Newsom's mouth and removed it.

Sgt. Snodderly, a family friend of the Newsom's, identified the body as Chris Newsom and later went to their house to notify them. 

During the defense's cross-examination, Childress told Green the Chipman Street house was about 150 feet from the tracks where Newsom's body was found.

However, Childress said although he was the lead detective, he was never given a record showing investigators knocked on doors along that street and he didn't know if they did.

Childress admitted to Green there may still be evidence in this case he hasn't seen. "And you're okay with that?" Green asked. "That depends on what it is," Childress said.

Judge clears up Cobbins' guilty pleas

Just after coming back from lunch, before the jury was brought in, Cobbins asked for clarification of the charges he pleaded guilty to on Monday. He had to be sworn in for this.

Judge Baumgartner explained that Cobbins pleaded guilty to facilitating kidnapping, oral penetration without bodily injury and to aiding theft, a total of six counts.

The judge said these pleas would result in eight to 12 years for facilitation, eight to 12 years for rape and two to four years for theft.

The judge also explained that the jury could still give Cobbins more prison time by convicting him on the original charges, not the lesser charges he pleaded guilty to.

Judge Baumgartner told Cobbins he can't appeal the charges he pleaded guilty to and he didn't have to enter those pleas. He could let the jury decide everything. Cobbins said he didn't know he couldn't appeal those pleas.

Cobbins said he was confused about the legal system earlier, "It's just a lot of law I don't understand," but he believes the guilty pleas are in his best interest.

Defense brings up other suspects' past convictions

The jury was brought back in and Detective Childress returned to the stand.

Green suggested to Childress that Eric Boyd's cell phone may have had pictures on it showing Newsom's rape. Judge Baumgartner called Green and the other attorneys to the bench for a private discussion.

A few minutes later, Green resumed his cross-examination, introducing a series of robbery convictions for Boyd dating back to 1995. He also discussed Davidson's prior conviction of armed carjacking. Davidson was released later on parole.

Green asked Childress if any property of Christian's or Newsom's was ever found on Cobbins. The detective said no and agreed that property was found with Sutton instead.

Childress also said Boyd wasn't charged with murder in this case.

TBI found bleach and semen on victim's camisole

Randall Nelson, with the TBI, testified that Christian's white camisole tested positive for bleach on stains that turned out to be semen.

On cross-examination, Green pointed out that it wasn't possible to know how the bleach got on the camisole.

Expert: Cobbins' DNA found on victim's clothes, in mouth

The state next called Jennifer Millsaps, who does forensics serology and DNA analysis for the TBI, to the stand.

Millsaps testified that "DNA is a genetic blueprint" and there are 13 markers used to identify an individual.

She said there are a number of ways DNA can be degraded and bleach is one way to do that.

In this case, Millsaps said DNA samples were taken from Cobbins, Boyd, Davidson, Coleman, Wernimont, Sutton and the murdered couple.

On Christian's striped shirt, Millsaps said she found sperm from Cobbins on one of the stains. There was limited sperm on another stain and Christian's DNA.

Millsaps said five stains were found on Christian's jeans: DNA from her, sperm from Davidson and Cobbins and there was blood.

There were stains with Cobbins' sperm on the leg of Christian's jeans, Millsaps said. She also found Christian's blood on the knee area and the back seat area.

Millsaps said an oral swab taken from Christian came back with Cobbins' DNA on it. Swabs from her vagina and rectum matched Davidson's DNA.

A rectal swab taken from Newsom showed semen, but Millsaps said she couldn't determine whose it was. 

Millsaps said she found Cobbins sperm on floral fabric that was used to bind Christian and Coleman's DNA showed up as well.

No DNA matching Boyd was found.

On cross-examination, Green pointed out that Coleman and Cobbins might have had sex on that floral bedding days before the carjacking, explaining the DNA.

Millsaps said cuttings from a mattress in Davidson's room had Christian's DNA, but there was none on the mattress Cobbins used.

Newsom father: Cobbins is a killer

Newsom's father, Hugh, talked with 6 News Thursday about what he thinks of Cobbins. "I think he's a murderer as the law as written. He may not have been the trigger person that killed Chris, but I suspect he helped put Channon in that waste can."

Evidence makes prison volunteer think twice

Joyce Bussell, of Dandridge, who spends her winters volunteering in a Florida prison, says she came to the trial to hear "the other side of the story."

"I just need to be reminded of the kind of people who are there. I tend to think everybody is a good person until they prove they're not, and that's not always the case," Bussell said.

After hearing the evidence Thursday, Bussell said she'll go back to the prison with a renewed regard for her personal safety.


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