No verdict on 1st day of Thomas deliberations

No verdict on 1st day of Thomas deliberations

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George Thomas George Thomas
Judge Richard Baumgartner reserved his judgement on the defense's acquittal motion and said he'll make a ruling later. Judge Richard Baumgartner reserved his judgement on the defense's acquittal motion and said he'll make a ruling later.
Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald presented a timeline of the crimes to the jury. Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald presented a timeline of the crimes to the jury.
"It should be about facts not hypotheticals," defense attorney Tom Dillard told the jury. "After all, this is a death penalty case." "It should be about facts not hypotheticals," defense attorney Tom Dillard told the jury. "After all, this is a death penalty case."

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Jurors deliberated for about two hours Monday without reaching a verdict in the case against George Thomas. However, a defense motion for acquittal remains in the judge's hands.

The jury got the case at 3:25 p.m. and wrapped around 5:15. They'll resume deliberations on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.

Also Tuesday at 10:00 a.m., the families of the victims will rehearse their impact statements, in case Thomas is found guilty of the charge that carries the possibility of the death penalty.


What happened in these murders

Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were carjacked, raped and murdered on the weekend of January 6-7, 2007.

Newsom's body was found on Sunday. He was bound, shot and burned along a set of East Knoxville railroad tracks near Chipman Street.

Christian's body was found two days later in a trash can in a house rented to LeMaricus Davidson and his then girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, on Chipman Street. She was wrapped in trash bags and the medical examiner said she eventually suffocated.

In October, Davidson was given the death penalty for his role in the slayings.

Davidson's half-brother, Letalvis Cobbins, was convicted in August and sentenced to life without parole.

How does Thomas fit in?

Thomas is the third defendant to be tried in the Christian-Newsom murders. He's accused of 12 separate offenses against Christian and Newsom.

Among the most serious charges he faces are first degree murder and felony murder. He faces a total of 38 counts.

A DNA analyst with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation testified Saturday that she didn't find any DNA from Thomas on the victims or the evidence.

On Wednesday, two fingerprint analysts with the Knoxville Police Department testified that they didn't find any of Thomas' prints at the crime scenes or on the evidence.

However, the jurors heard a tape played Friday of Thomas admitting to Knox County sheriff's officers that he saw the victims being held blindfolded in the house where he stayed and he did nothing to help them.

Thomas could be found guilty of lesser charges including facilitation of the murders, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide or criminally negligent homicide.

Jury instructed

Judge Richard Baumgartner read the first 67 pages of the document called the jury sentencing charge before lunch.

As he was reading, Knoxville News Sentinel Reporter Jamie Satterfield appeared to briefly pass out in court, but seemed alright afterward and was able to post on Twitter.

After the state's rebuttal closing argument, Judge Baumgartner finished instructing the jury.

Thomas told the court he chose not testify in his own defense Monday morning and his attorneys rested their case after that, without calling any witnesses.

The jurors must come to unanimous decisions on the verdicts.

State's closing: Thomas guilty of participating in crimes

Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald began by reminding jurors they told her they could find Thomas guilty in a circumstantial case.

"Who is responsible for the crimes?" Fitzgerald asked.

She showed the jury a timeline of the events. "We know Channon and Chris had plans that night (of the carjacking)."

Fitzgerald asked jurors to give one of the state's witnesses, Ethel Lynn Freeman, the benefit of the doubt when she admitted Thursday that in previous trial testimony she said she saw Christian and Newsom at an Exxon gas station on Cherry Street the night of the carjacking.

Freeman claimed she didn't know the couple, who asked her for money because they were out of gas and needed to drive to Johnson City or Jefferson City. Freeman said she recognized the couple later on the news.

Fitzgerald said Freeman was mistaken.

Fitzgerald reminded the jurors that Davidson's then girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, testified Thursday that Thomas was in the Chipman Street house on the Sunday night of the murders.

Fitzgerald said the day before he was arrested, Thomas was handling some bullets.

She described Newsom's rapes, admitting that no DNA evidence of Thomas was found on him. She said Newsom was killed around 1:45 a.m. Sunday. His rapes happened at least a couple of hours before his death, according to the medical examiner.

Fitzgerald also said an "awful lot of work" went into making sure Christian was dead. She reminded the jurors how Christian was partially undressed, bound, wrapped in trash bags and stuffed in a trash can where she died. She'd been raped multiple times.

Fitzgerald told the jurors "theft, robbery, kidnapping, rape, felony murder, first degree murder, we've proven these crimes occurred."

"Who's responsible?" Fitzgerald asked. "Davidson? No question. Cobbins? DNA evidence. Coleman? DNA evidence."

"What about Thomas?" Fitzgerald asked. "There are eye witness accounts of his conduct and his own statement. Eric Boyd? Thomas says Boyd killed Newsom, but there's no DNA evidence."

Boyd was convicted in 2008 as an accessory in this case and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

"Can you be a murderer without DNA?" Fitzgerald asked. "Thomas says Boyd is a killer."

"If there was DNA from Thomas, maybe it was destroyed by fire (since Newsom was burned) or bleach (which was poured on Christian and down her throat)," Fitzgerald said.

She told the jury, Thomas is guilty under the legal definition of criminal responsibility, "acting with the intent to promote or acting with the intent to assist."

"Thomas helped and benefited from the crimes. Those two are enough to find him criminally responsible," Fitzgerald said.

She told the jury Thomas benefited from the carjacking by riding in Christian's Toyota 4Runner while she was dying.

She said Thomas commended his co-defendants by telling them "nice ride" after he looked out the window and saw Christian's SUV when the couple was brought into the house blindfolded.

"That's encouragement and that's why he's guilty," Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said Thomas wanted to share in the experience of the crimes, "That's how he aided."

"If he was an innocent bystander, why didn't they rape and kill him?" Fitzgerald asked the jury.

Fitzgerald said there's no evidence Thomas helped after the fact. "That's why he wasn't charged with accessory after the fact. He participated fully in the act."

Fitzgerald said Thomas went to a store and used the victims' money to buy beer and snacks.

"Channon meant nothing to them. She was a means to an end and so was Chris Newsom," Fitzgerald said.

Defense's closing: Look at facts, Thomas not guilty

Defense attorney Tom Dillard said if Fitzgerald had just stuck to the facts in this case, her closing would have been about 15 minutes instead of an hour.

"It should be about facts not hypotheticals," Dillard told the jury. "After all, this is a death penalty case."

He said there's a lot of speculation about what could have happened, but it didn't.

Dillard said there's no question that Christian and Newsom were innocent victims who were brutalized, but he asked jurors to only weigh facts, not let their emotions take over. "George Thomas is not guilty."

Criminal responsibility as defined by Dillard requires much more than the state's version.

Dillard said Thomas didn't do anything but sit in a chair and smoke a blunt and mind his own business.

"Would we have done that? I guess you would have to be in that situation to know," Dillard said.

"Cobbins and Davidson are responsible for the crimes and they've been tried," Dillard said.

He told the jurors they must have a "moral certainty" about guilt, not a possibility of it.

State's rebuttal closing: Thomas didn't help, he participated

Prosecutor Leland Price told the jury that the victims suffered and again, Thomas was there.

Price said Thomas told investigators he heard Davidson talking about planning to "jack a car."

Price said there's a difference between planning to "jack a car" or to "get a car." He said the difference is, jacking a car means people are there.

He told the jury the Chipman Street home was small, about 900 feet, so Thomas would have to hear Christian's screams and cries for help.

"He's part of this," Price said.

"Thomas wasn't trying get away from the crime. He was fleeing" from the crime. Is that the action of someone who's not involved?" Price asked.

Motion for acquittal still on table

Judge Richard Baumgartner denied the initial motion by the defense Monday to acquit Thomas after his attorneys argued that the state didn't meet its burden of proof in the case.

However, the defense renewed its motion for acquittal. This time, Judge Baumgartner reserved his judgement on the motion and said he'll make a ruling later.

This means the judge has the final say on the matter, barring any appeals. He could possibly throw out the jury's decision if he feels it's not backed up by the evidence.


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