Medical examiner describes victims' torture in Cobbins trial

Medical examiner describes victims' torture in Cobbins trial

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Letalvis Cobbins Letalvis Cobbins
Chris Newsom's parents, Mary and Hugh Newsom Chris Newsom's parents, Mary and Hugh Newsom
Channon Christian's parents, Deena and Gary Channon Christian's parents, Deena and Gary
Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan demonstrates the trajectory of the bullet in Chris Newsom's head. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan demonstrates the trajectory of the bullet in Chris Newsom's head.
Adrian Nicole Mathis was the only defense witness called Friday. Adrian Nicole Mathis was the only defense witness called Friday.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- The state rested its case Friday after Knox County Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan testified on the torture the autopsies of the victims' bodies revealed in the Letalvis Cobbins murder trial.

There's a lingering question about whether Cobbins will testify on his behalf. He told Judge Richard Baumgartner, "I haven't completely made up my mind. Could I sleep on it and tell you in the morning?" The judge gave him until 9:00 a.m. Saturday.

Cobbins is the first of four suspects to be tried for the carjacking, rapes and murders of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, 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.

No jail calls as evidence

Before testimony started Friday, the state decided not to use Cobbins' calls from jails as evidence in its case against him.

Value of Christian's 4Runner

Christian's father, Gary, was recalled to the stand. He sells Toyotas and testified that the value of Christian's Toyota 4Runner, which the couple was carjacked in, was $25,000. This establishes the charges of felony theft in the case.

Medical examiner: Newsom raped, shot and killed, set on fire

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan autopsied the bodies of Christian and Newsom.

The state showed several photos of Newsom's body on a projector. His bare feet were bound and his body was burned.

His family quietly wept as Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan described his face wrapped in a sweatshirt with a hole showing in it where Newsom was shot in the head. His hands were tied behind his back and he was gagged with socks.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that the gun was put against Newsom's head and fired, leaving an inch gash.

Newsom was also shot in the upper shoulder near his neck and in the lower back, which would have disabled him, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said.

The bullet to the head was Newsom's cause of death. He was dead when he was set on fire.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan described bruising indicating that Newsom was raped with an object, probably hours before he was killed. She estimated that it happened between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 a.m. and he likely died in the early morning hours.

What was done to Newsom was probably "too complex" to be done by one person, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said. He had no defensive wounds and was likely outnumbered and overpowered.

After the court took a break, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan came back to the stand and used a mannequin to show where Newsom was shot. The shoulder wound disabled his arm. The lower back wound nearly shattered his spinal cord.

Newsom's friend, Josh Anderson, who testified in court earlier this week, wouldn't look at the projected photos. The jury often looked at the medical examiner.

Cobbins shielded his face from the autopsy photos.

Medical examiner: Christian suffocated in trash can

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that she went to the crime scene where Christian was found in an East Knoxville house on Chipman Street. The state began showing photos of Christian's body.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian's bound body was "crammed" in five large trash bags in a trash can in the kitchen. She was bound so tightly her knees were touching her cheeks.

Christian was alive when she was put in the trash can. "She died in the trash can," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified. The cause was lack of oxygen.

Christian was only wearing a sweatshirt and a camisole.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian wasn't strangled. She had a plastic bag over her head and her eyes were open.

Christian's fingernails didn't show any defensive wounds, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian's body had accumulated blood, bruising and "lots of abrasions" indicating rape with blunt trauma and an object. Some of the jurors grimaced at these photos.

"This was no simple rape," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said. It was much more severe.

Christian was raped orally first, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said, and eventually wrapped in the trash bags and put in the can. She believes Christian died within three to five minutes after the bag was put over her head.

Christian was injured Sunday afternoon, the medical examiner said. She'd been dead for at least a day when she was found and died possibly sometime late Sunday or early Monday. 

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified that she believed more than one person was responsible for Christian's murder.

Again, Cobbins didn't look at the photos. He looked down and covered his eyes with his hand or put his head down so far it was just barely above the table where he sat.

However, Christian's father was looking directly at Cobbins at one point. A moment later, Newsom's father comforted Gary Christian.

Cross-examination: ME believes multiple people harmed victims

On cross-examination, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan told defense attorney Scott Green she couldn't say who inflicted bruises on Christian's arms and that it could have been a man or a woman.

She also told Green the blunt force trauma to Christian's genital area could have been caused by kicking or hitting.

The medical examiner said she took swabs from Christian's mouth that later tested positive for Cobbins' DNA and swabs from her vagina and rectum that were positive for Davidson's DNA.

Defense implied with questioning that Christian could've been dragged by one person and tied up due to her carpet burns.

Christian had bruising that suggested her head bashed into a "stationary object, " Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said.

"The forensic pathologist isn't here to point fingers and say who did what," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan told Green. "The forensic pathologist is here to speak for the victims."

"It's not really appropriate to ask me in 10 minutes of questions who did what," Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan told Green after he contended she wasn't answering his questions. "That's not what I'm here for."

He continued, saying he wasn't asking her exactly who did what. She told him that she couldn't say exactly how long certain actions took or exactly how many people harmed the victims, only that her opinion was it took more than one person to carry out what was done. 

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said she couldn't test for bleach on Christian's body.

Cobbins pleaded guilty on Monday to raping Channon Christian without causing bodily injury. Judge Baumgartner clarified that plea for him on Thursday.

Defense: state hasn't proven case

The defense returned following after a break when the state rested and made a motion asking the court to dismiss all charges except those Cobbins has pleaded guilty to.

Green said the state has only proved these violent, horrific crimes but has failed to prove Cobbins planned them or took part in all of them.

Judge Baumgartner questioned the state about its theory on Newsom's death.

Green contended there's no proof that Cobbins shared the intention to kill Newsom. The state argued that Cobbins was present at the crime scenes and did know what was going to happen.

Judge Baumgartner denied the motion, ruling that all more than 40 charges, stay on the table.

At noon, one of two witnesses the defense was seeking was found. The witness was ordered by Judge Baumgartner to stay in the City County Building. She's the only witness expected to testify Friday.

Officers are still looking for one other witness.

Defense witness: cousin borrowed car seen later at murder house

The defense called one witness Friday afternoon, then court adjourned for the day.

Adrian Nicole Mathis is the cousin of Eric Boyd, who was convicted as an accessory in this case last fall and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Mathis identified the car she let Boyd borrow the night Christian and Newsom were carjacked. It was identified at the scene on Chipman Street.

Specifying the charges

Judge Baumgartner required the state to specify which act of rape it's accusing Cobbins of being responsible for. The attorneys chose oral rape, the type Cobbins pleaded guilty to.

Jury to get case

Judge Baumgartner said he expects to give this case to the jury on Saturday and there could be a verdict. However, he told jurors they'll have the option to deliberate Sunday if they choose.

Christian family believes medical examiner

Gary and Deena Christian told 6 News they believe if only one person was holding their daughter captive, she would have fought for her life and they think the same thing is true for Newsom.

The medical examiner testified that neither had any defensive wounds.

"When I said it haunts you, now you know what I mean," Deena said. "When you saw the picture of my daughter's face, did you see the horror that I see every night?" Gary asked.

Pointing to a button she was wearing of Channon, Deena said, "This is what she's supposed to look like and you saw what she looked like after those animals did what they did to her."

Newsom family grateful for support

Newsom's father, Hugh Newsom, spoke with 6 News during the court's lunch break. He thanked everyone for their thoughts and prayers.

After court adjourned, he reflected on what his son endured. "What hurt me the most was seeing the mud on the bottom of his feet, knowing they walked him down through there (near the train tracks where he was killed), on that cold winter night, probably wearing only his underwear and then shooting him in the back..."

The Newsoms say whether Cobbins gets life in prison or the death sentence, their family and the Christians suffer more because their children are lost forever.


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