Judge warns victim's family about comments to defense attorneys

Judge warns victim's family about comments to defense attorneys

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LeMaricus Davidson LeMaricus Davidson
Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald described how Christian's body was found in five bags in a trash can where she suffocated, saying, "She died with her eyes open." Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald described how Christian's body was found in five bags in a trash can where she suffocated, saying, "She died with her eyes open."
"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link," defense attorney David Eldridge told the jury. At the end of day, "You're going to find a number of weak links in their case." "A chain is only as strong as its weakest link," defense attorney David Eldridge told the jury. At the end of day, "You're going to find a number of weak links in their case."
Mary and Hugh Newsom Mary and Hugh Newsom
On cross examination, defense attorney Doug Trant got Josh Anderson to admit they took marijuana out of Newsom's truck after he went missing. On cross examination, defense attorney Doug Trant got Josh Anderson to admit they took marijuana out of Newsom's truck after he went missing.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- In the first day of the LeMaricus Davidson trial, Judge Richard Baumgartner warned the family of a victim in the Christian-Newsom murders not to make comments to the defense attorneys.

Davidson is the alleged ringleader in the January 2007 carjacking, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom. The crimes occurred on or about January 7.

The state is seeking the death penalty for Davidson.

State's opening argument

Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald gave the state's opening argument. She mentioned Newsom's purchase of a pair of tennis shoes which she said eventually led to Davidson.

Fitzgerald described the day of the carjacking, saying Newsom planned to take Christian to dinner before a party at their friends.

Phone records show Christian's last call was made from Cherry Street, Fitzgerald told the court. The house where her body was found is on Chipman Street, which is two streets away from Cherry Street.

Fitzgerald said by the time Christian's stolen Toyota 4Runner was found, Davidson had already decided their fate.

Fingerprints found on an envelope in Christian's SUV belonged to Davidson. 

Fitzgerald described how officers found Newsom's shoes were found at the house where Davidson was arrested on Reynolds Street.

The prosecutor described how Christian's body was found in five bags in a trash can where she suffocated, saying, "She died with her eyes open."

Fitzgerald also described the condition of Newsom's bound, burned and shot body by a set of railroad tracks, saying, "He had been brutally raped.

Defense's opening argument

Attorney David Eldridge began by telling the jury, "Don't let the photos sway you from your duty." He also said Davidson is not guilty of killing the couple.

Eldridge said there's no evidence linking Davidson to the rape or murder of Newsom, no evidence of him at the railroad tracks, no murder weapon and no eyewitnesses.

Eldridge claimed the other three defendants in this case, Davidson's half-brother, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman left town, but Davidson didn't. He said Davidson hid, but shouldn't have.

Cobbins was convicted in August in this case and sentenced to life without parole.

Eldridge told the jury to pay close attention to the fact that the two bags found closest to Christian's body had no prints and the bag around her head had no prints from Davidson.

The state had said three of the five bags enclosing her body had Davidson's fingerprints.

However, Eldridge said those fingerprints could have gotten there any time, since trash bags are common household items and the Chipman Street house was being rented by Davidson.

Also, Eldridge said the DNA of two unknown men found on Christian's underwear will come up in this trial, saying it will bring up more questions than answers.

Eldridge said a great deal of the state's case is based on circumstantial evidence.

"A chain is only as strong as its weakest link," Eldridge told the jury. At the end of day, "You're going to find a number of weak links in their case."

Newsom's best friend describes finding stolen SUV

Newsom's best friend, Josh Anderson, was the first witness the state called to the stand. He testified about his friendship with Newsom and Christian.

Anderson said Newsom and Christian's friends began calling them and leaving messages when they didn't show up at the Saturday night party they planned to attend.

Their parents called about the missing couple around noon on Sunday, the day after the party, Anderson testified.

He said late on the night of the party, they went to the apartment where the couple met and found Newsom's truck. Anderson said he took Newsom's golf clubs out of the truck bed. "It was pouring rain."

Anderson said on Sunday, they found which cell phone tower the couple's last call had been made from and visited with Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary. He said later, they met with Christian's parents.

He described the grid style search of streets he and Christian's father and brother helped organize. They eventually found her SUV at the corner of Chipman Street and Glider Avenue and called police.

"Everybody was real worried at that point. We didn't know what to do," Anderson said.

Anderson said there was a lot of mud in the SUV's floorboard and decals on the windows had been removed.

He identified some ball caps and shoes that belonged to Newsom and called the shoes "ugly," which drew smiles from Newsom's parents. The shoes were found in the house where Davidson was arrested.

On cross examination, defense attorney Doug Trant got Anderson to admit they took marijuana out of Newsom's truck after he went missing. The state objected and the defense was cut off.

Judge warns Newsom family

When court resumed after lunch, Judge Richard Baumgartner said a Newsom family member confronted defense attorney Doug Trant over the marijuana testimony.

The judge warned the Newsom family that he won't tolerate this behavior and threatened to ban them from the courtroom if it happens again.

Chris Newsom's friend, Josh Anderson, said he didn't know the defense was going to ask about the pot in Chris' truck.

Hugh Newsom said there's no need for that information in the trial.

The Newsoms were discussing this among themselves when apparently, Trant stuck his head into the discussion and said something like, "Let's not go there."

Someone in the Newsom family then apparently called Trant a "jerk" as he walked away. During a break, Hugh Newsom told 6 News he never said anything directly to Trant.

The Christians called the warning censorship and wanted to know why they can't say what they want to about the case, but the attorneys can.

Christian's best friend surprised by sighting of couple

When the state called Christian's best friend, Kara Sowards, to the stand, prosecutor Leland Price made the point that neither Christian or Newsom would voluntarily go to the Cherry Street area.

Like Josh Anderson, Sowards was involved in the search for Christian's SUV and was there when it was found.

Sowards identified clothing Price showed her as Christian's including blue jeans, a striped shirt and a tank top.

During cross examination, defense attorney Doug Trant said Christian and Newsom were seen at the Exxon station on Cherry Street at Magnolia Avenue and asked if that would surprise Sowards. She said it would.

Worker saw stolen SUV being driven

The next witness called by the state was Xavier Jenkins, an employee of Waste Connections. The business is next door to the Chipman Street house.

Jenkins said the street seemed unusually busy the night of the carjacking. He saw Christian's 4Runner parked on the street.

He said he was at Waste Connections for training and saw activity on street as he waited to meet other employees. 

Jenkins said he also saw the 4Runner being driven with other people in it and he got an uneasy feeling when they looked at him.

When Jenkins saw the 4Runner later, he said it was empty.

On cross examination, Jenkins admitted to Trant he couldn't say for certain he didn't see a white woman or man in the 4Runner but he believed the occupants were black men.

Christian and Newsom were white. All the defendants are black.

Witness testimony about Newsom crime scene

A man who lives on Chipman Street testified that he heard three pops the night Newsom was killed, possibly near the railroad tracks, which are close to the street.

Another witness, Roy Thurman, testified that he worked a sand blaster the morning of January 7, 2007 and saw smoke coming from the tracks around 7:45.

A Norfolk Southern engineer, J.D. Ford, testified that he was driving a train on the tracks by Chipman Street on January 7, 2007. He said he left the yard just after midnight. He saw what appeared to be a body by the tracks.

Ford said he stopped the train and made certain what he was seeing was a body. The state showed the jury a photo of Newsom's badly burned body.

The state called Kileen Bible to the stand. She lived near Chipman Street at the time of the murders and said on January 8, she told police she'd never seen the 4Runner that was parked near her house.

Bible also said she never saw Christian or Newsom in the area.

Expert witness testimony

State arson investigator Robert Watson testified that he and a K-9 officer named "Yvonne" responded to the scene where Newsom's body was found.

Watson said the K-9 alerts on hydrocarbons, a component of gas, at two areas. He said he  collected samples.

An evidence technician with the Knoxville Police Department, Russ Whitfield, testified that he arrived at the Newsom crime scene around 2:45 p.m. and photographed it.

Whitfield was shown fabric from the crime scene at the tracks and a nearby creek. It's the same floral cloth found with Newsom's body. There were also photos of a broken dog leash used to bind Newsom.

The jury asked questions and was told the cloth wasn't tested for DNA and the fabric was found in knots.

On cross examination, defense attorney David Eldridge asked Whitfield if one of the photos showed his bare hand holding the dog leash. Whitfield said it did. 

A fire debris and gunshot residue expert with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Laura Hodge, testified that she found gas on samples at the Newsom crime scene.

In the cross examination by Eldridge, Hodge said she didn't examine the fabric found with Newsom. She said she examined soil samples on March 7.

Knoxville police fingerprint expert Dan Crenshaw testified that he went to the scene where the 4Runner was found at 2:19 a.m. Monday. He took pictures of the SUV and exterior prints.

Crenshaw said Davidson's print was on a bank envelope in Christian's 4Runner.

Crenshaw also testified that he drove by the Chipman Street house, but saw no signs of activity inside.

He said he was able to find Davidson's palm prints on a trash bag around Christian's body and Davidson's prints were on photos taken from Christian's SUV.

Much of Monday's testimony was first heard in the Cobbins trial. So far, the state is using similar methods to build its case in this trial.

Davidson pleads not guilty

Before opening arguments, Judge Baumgartner polled the jurors individually and all said they've avoided pre-trial publicity as they were instructed to do.

The 12 jurors and three alternate jurors are sequestered for the trial. Two alternate jurors were excused Monday morning.

As Judge Baumgartner instructed the jury, he said Davidson is accused of 12 distinct offenses in 46 separate counts. Davidson pleaded not guilty to all of them.

Prosecutor Price read the indictment, which includes murder during theft and rape.


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