Jurors hear Coleman describe killings of Christian and Newsom

Jurors hear Coleman describe killings of Christian and Newsom

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Vanessa Coleman Vanessa Coleman
ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner told Coleman's defense attorney he still feels she's withholding information. ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner told Coleman's defense attorney he still feels she's withholding information.
One page of the journal says, "We had a crackhead bring us back," referring to Jody Long, the woman who drove Coleman, Cobbins and Thomas back to Kentucky. One page of the journal says, "We had a crackhead bring us back," referring to Jody Long, the woman who drove Coleman, Cobbins and Thomas back to Kentucky.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The state on Thursday read a transcript and played an interview with Vanessa Coleman giving details on the killings of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom in January 2007.

Case background

Coleman, 21, is the fourth defendant to stand trial for the robbery, rapes and murders of Christian and Newsom, her boyfriend. She's facing the death penalty.

The bound body of Chris was found near some railroad tracks in East Knoxville. The medical examiner said he had been repeatedly raped, beaten and shot. His body was also burned.

The bound body of Channon was found in a trash can in a nearby house at 2316 Chipman Street two days later. The medical examiner said she was also repeatedly raped, beaten and bleach was poured down her throat. She suffocated in the trash can.

Coleman's ex-boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins and his friend, George Thomas, are serving life without parole for these murders.

LeMaricus Davidson, who is Cobbins' half-brother, received the death penalty. He rented the Chipman Street house with his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton.

Jury hears Coleman interview

The state's first witness was former detective Nevil Norman, one of the first to interview suspects in this case.

Norman described interviewing Coleman with former Knox County Sheriff Tim Hutchison and current sheriff J.J. Jones also present.

Transcript of Vanessa Coleman interview

  • Click here to read the transcript, which is missing page six.

The state played a recording of the interview and gave transcripts to the jurors.

She told Norman they went to Knoxville for the holidays to "chill out." She also asked the officers, "What's going on?"

Coleman said she, Cobbins and Thomas left Knoxville with Stacey Lawson on January 2.

When asked if she knew anything about the murders in Knoxville, Coleman said, "I don't know anything about it."

Coleman continued to deny knowledge of the crimes and Jones, who said she wasn't telling the truth, told her, "I'm about done with you. This is your last opportunity."

Coleman then asked for a lawyer as she continued to know about the crimes, and the interview ended.

In testimony Wednesday from Davidson's ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, she said Coleman and the others were at the Chipman Street house on Sunday, January 7, 2007.

On cross examination, defense attorney Theodore Lavit established that the ATF, the Kentucky State Police, the Knoxville Police Department and the Knox County Sheriff's Office worked together on the case.

Jury hears Coleman's federal grand jury testimony

Next, the jury heard Coleman's testimony before a federal grand jury on January 17.

Transcript of Vanessa Coleman testimony

  • Click here to read the transcript. (Note, it is redacted.)

Prosecutor Leland Price read the questions because there's no audio of the testimony. Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald took the stand and read Coleman's responses.

Coleman was asked about her visit to the Chipman Street house. She said she and Cobbins were dating and "We stayed until the 9th."

She described guns in the house and said Cobbins always carried one.

Coleman said on Saturday, January 6, Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas left and returned with a white girl (Channon Christian) who "was blindfolded."

She said she peeked into a bedroom where Davidson took Christian, tied her to a chair and then to a bed. She said Cobbins and Thomas stayed in the living room.

Coleman said Thomas and Davidson left the house later and returned after about an hour. She described both as looking "nervous" when they returned, and she saw what looked like blood stains on their clothes.

She said Davidson went into the bedroom and she heard Christian say, "Stop. Don't do that."

Coleman said Thomas and Davidson left the house again with a gas can. They were in what turned out to be Christian's stolen Toyota 4Runner.

She said Christian was blindfolded at all times, and Thomas told her Davidson had sex with Christian.

Coleman said she wanted a candy bar so they went to a store in Christian's SUV. They also took it to an apartment complex. She said Christian was alone in the house for about an hour while they were gone.

She claimed she was in the bathroom taking a shower while Christian was tied up in the back bedroom closet as Daphne Sutton came to the house Sunday night.

Coleman said she "snuck in" to give Christian water without the men knowing, but Christian never asked her for help. Instead, she said Christian thanked her.

She said she saw Davidson choking Christian in the back room and, "snapping at her neck." She heard Christian say "oh, like she was in pain."

Coleman said Davidson sprayed bleach into Christian's mouth, then dragged her into the living room and tied her in a fetal position. Christian was naked from the waist down.

She said Christian didn't react when the bleach was sprayed in her mouth. However, the Knox County medical examiner has testified in prior trials that Christian was alive at this point.

Coleman said Thomas and Davidson put Christian in trash bags and put her in a trash can. She claimed that she threatened to call police, and Davidson said he would kill her.

Coleman said Davidson gave her Christian's pants, a purse, pink high heels, a billfold and candy, but she didn't know where they came from.

She said Davidson left in Christian's SUV and she, Cobbins and Thomas walked to the house of Davidson's friend, Vince Wernimont.

Coleman said Thomas admitted shooting Newsom, and said he was "ashamed" and shouldn't have done what he did.

She said Thomas and Davidson washed their blood stained clothes.

Coleman said she was "terrified" during these events, had been threatened by Davidson and her boyfriend, Cobbins,, wasn't very nice to her either.

She also said only Davidson had sex with Christian, but Cobbins' DNA implicated him in the rapes as well. Cobbins also testified that he had sex with her in his trial.

Coleman said Christian may have thought if she went along with the men's demands, she would be set free.

ATF agent describes Coleman's capture, questioning

ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner testified that on January 11, 2007 he was in Kentucky with other agencies and went to the home of Thomas girlfriend, Stacey Lawson.

He said Lawson told authorities the suspects were at the home of Natosha Hays house - where they are later apprehended.

Transcript of Vanessa Coleman interview

Waggoner said he went to the police station where he was asked to watch Thomas and Coleman. He said Coleman never indicated that she was afraid of Thomas, Cobbins or Davidson.

He said Hays' house was searched, and officers found a shoe box under a bed with no gun in it. A friend of Hays testified Wednesday that she found a revolver later in that shoe box.

Investigators believe Coleman hid the gun in the box.

Waggoner described finding a red purse with a journal at Hays house. The state says this was Coleman's purse, but the defense disputes that. The purse had a photo of Cobbins in a billfold, and items that belonged to Channon Christian.

Waggoner said he gave the journal to the Knox County Sheriff's Office, and helped with three searches of the Chipman Street house.

He said Coleman was being evasive when he spoke to her before her federal grand jury testimony.

Waggoner said he asked Coleman's mother to convince her to tell the truth. That's when Coleman revealed she saw Davidson kill Christian.

Coleman then answered questions from U.S. attorneys.

In late January 2007, Coleman agreed to protective custody after her name was released to the Knoxville media.

Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald asked Waggoner why protective custody was offered? He said there was a lower level concern for her safety. However, two days later Coleman wanted to go home, and declined to stay in custody.

Before Coleman left, Waggoner said she was interviewed again with both parents present. During the interview, she admitted that she touched Christian.

Later Coleman interview reveals more murder details

In an interview of Coleman on January 28, 2007, she told agents she checked Christian's pulse after she was choked by Davidson. Coleman implicated Cobbins in the killing as well.

Coleman said Davidson told her to check Christian's pulse, but she couldn't tell if Christian was alive. She said Cobbins stood watching as Davidson choked Christian.

She told agents Davidson, Thomas and Cobbins burned Newsom's body, and Cobbins held Newsom away from the Chipman Street house.

Coleman told agents she had nothing to do with Christian's murder and never held Christian hostage.

She also claimed she didn't help dispose of Christian's body or cleanup afterward.

After the interview ended, Coleman's parents took her home. Three days later she was charged with murder, kidnapping and theft.

On cross examination, Lavit asked if Coleman knew on January 31 that she was under indictment as she gave her statement. Waggoner said, "I didn't tell her."

Lavit asked if Waggoner thought Coleman was just withholding information. "Still do," he said.

Lavit pressed Waggoner to explain, and he said the Chipman Street house was too small for Coleman not to have heard anything.

The prosecution finally began objecting to Lavit's questions, Lavit argued and Waggoner searched his notes for answers. Judge Baumgartner called for a break after putting his hand to his forehead.

When court resumed, Lavit asked Waggoner if, based on the January 31 interview, he remembered Coleman saying she tried to escape the Chipman Street house and was assaulted.

Lavit pointed to a page in the interview when Coleman said she was grabbed by the throat and thrown on a bed, cutting her ankle and head.

Waggoner read from Coleman's statement, "After I said I was calling the police, they kept a close eye on me."

Waggoner also said Coleman changed her story from not knowing anything about the crimes to witnessing a murder.

Lavit asked Waggoner if although his resources are with the U.S. government, they didn't find a shred of evidence of his client? "She was there," Waggoner replied. "Her presence is evidence. It's not strong evidence, but it's evidence."

Waggoner told Lavit he wasn't aware of the immunity issue and didn't know why Coleman was given protective custody.

Police interview Coleman

The state then played part of Coleman's interview with the Knoxville Police Department before her arrest for the jury.

Handwriting expert says Coleman's writing in journal

While the jury was at lunch, Judge Richard Baumgartner held a hearing with ETSU forensic handwriting expert Larry Miller on the handwriting in the journal officers found.

He was asked to authenticate that it's Coleman's writing.

Miller used a letter written by Coleman as a sample to compare to the journal, and said it was a positive match.

The state showed pages of the journal and Miller explained his conclusion, pointing to particular letters.

One page of the journal says, "We had a crackhead bring us back," referring to Jody Long, the woman who drove Coleman, Cobbins and Thomas back to Kentucky. Long testified about this on Wednesday.


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