Defense: Coleman charged but immunity request prepared?

Defense: Coleman charged but immunity request prepared?

Updated:
Vanessa Coleman with her attorney, Theodore Lavit, during testimony on Chris Newsom's autopsy Vanessa Coleman with her attorney, Theodore Lavit, during testimony on Chris Newsom's autopsy
Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan showed the jury where Newsom was shot. Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan showed the jury where Newsom was shot.
Chris Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary Chris Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary
Channon Christian's parents, Gary and Deena Channon Christian's parents, Gary and Deena
A man in the courtroom audience fainted as the photos were finishing, causing a brief break in the proceedings. A man in the courtroom audience fainted as the photos were finishing, causing a brief break in the proceedings.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The defense began its case Monday afternoon questioning a U.S. attorney on why Vanessa Coleman was charged in the Christian-Newsom murders although a federal immunity request was prepared for her.

Medical examiner was state's final witness

The state called its final witness Monday morning, Knox County Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan.

Her photos of the victims are so gruesome that 6 News Anchor Gene Patterson and Reporter Hana Kim say they're amazed the families have endured them through the series of trials in this case.

Autopsy of Chris Newsom

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan discussed the autopsy of Chris Newsom, 23, first. It was performed on January 8, 2007, a day after his body was found near some railroad tracks in East Knoxville.

Newsom's cause of death was a gunshot wound. A shot to the back disabled him, but a shot to the head killed him when he was bent over. He was also shot at the top of his shoulder.

The medical examiner used a mannequin to show the jury the direction of the bullets that killed Newsom.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan also found blunt trauma and evidence that he was raped multiple times one or two hours before his death.

The state showed the jury pictures of Newsom's body. It was set on fire after he died and was unrecognizable when it was found.

Newsom was gagged with a sock and his head was covered with a sweatshirt. His ankles were bound with a belt.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said due to the fire causing his body to draw up, he appeared to be in a posture like a boxing stance.

Bullets were recovered from Newsom's body, but investigators could not determine what gun fired them.

The medical examiner said mud on Newsom's feet showed he was made to walk barefoot to where he was shot.

The Newsoms comforted each other through tears as Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan testified.

Vanessa Coleman put her head on table and didn't look at the photos as Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan described what they showed. Her body shook as though she was crying.

Newsom and his girlfriend, Channon Christian, were carjacked the night of January 6, 2007 in her Toyota 4Runner. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said he was killed a few hours after the carjacking.

LeMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, and George Thomas were arrested a few days later and charged with the murders of the couple. Later, Cobbins' then girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, was also charged with murder.

Investigators tracked the suspects through Davidson's fingerprints, which were found in the 4Runner.

Cobbins was found guilty of Christian's murder and sentenced to life without parole on August 26, 2009.

Davidson was found guilty of murdering Christian and Newsom and sentenced to the death penalty on October 30, 2009.

Thomas was found guilty of murdering Christian and Newsom and sentenced to life without parole on December 10, 2009.

Autopsy of Channon Christian

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan described the scene where the body of Channon Christian was found from direct observation. It was in a trash can in a house at 2316 Chipman Street. Davidson and his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, rented that house.

As the state showed photos, Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian's body was bound and wrapped in several trash bags with another bag over her head.

The medical examiner said Christian was stuffed into the trash can and her face was pushed against her knee, making it difficult for her to breathe.

Christian's cause of death was determined as suffocation. Her eyes were half open when she was found and her fingernails were used as evidence.

Christian had blunt trauma to the anal and genital area. She was raped multiple times. DNA matched Davidson and Cobbins, who were both convicted of raping her.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said Christian's genital injuries occurred about a day before her death.

She said, "This was not just a simple sexual assault," explaining that Christian's injuries were deep and she was likely kicked.

She said she didn't find evidence that Christian was strangled, although Coleman said in multiple interviews with investigators that Davidson choked her and tried to snap her neck.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said she believes Christian died Sunday night or Monday morning.

Christian's mother, Deena, sat looking down at times. Her father, Gary, rocked back and forth, leaning on the bench in front of him.

Coleman put her head down, rocking slightly and took tissues as the photos were shown.

A man in the courtroom audience fainted as the photos were finishing, causing a brief break in the proceedings. He came to and was led from the courtroom. Medical personnel checked him, and sent him on his way. The man wasn't connected to the trial.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan identified several pieces of evidence found at the crime scenes including the trash can Christian's body was in and the trash bags around it.

She said neither victim had any defensive wounds.

Cross examination of medical examiner

On cross examination, defense attorney Russ Greene asked if Christian was gagged during her assaults, trying to explain how Coleman wouldn't hear her scream as she told investigators.

Greene also asked if it's possible to compress the neck with an arm causing unconsciousness, but without damaging the trachea.

Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said she can't rule out any pressure on the neck, but there's no evidence of a prolonged act.

The jury asked about injuries and not making noise. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan said noise could have been muffled, but there was "certainly a lot of pain."

The medical examiner said Coleman's claims of not hearing Christian cry out don't appear credible given the size of house. It was just over 800 square feet.

The state rested its case after the medical examiner's testimony was finished.

Defense acquittal denied

The defense made a motion for acquittal after the state rested, saying the state didn't meet its burden of proof against Coleman. Attorney Russ Greene argued no intent, actions or knowledge of crimes have been shown for Coleman.

Defense attorney Theodore Lavit argued there's no evidence Coleman solicited or participated in the crimes.

Judge Richard Baumgartner denied the motion telling the defense to make their argument to the jury, not him.

Christian's father warned about comments

Before the jury came back from lunch, the judge told Gary Christian not to make derogatory comments to the defense attorneys.

Lavit said Christian hasn't spoken to him directly, but has made comments out of the side of his mouth several times as they passed by.

Christian denied making any such comments.

U.S. attorney explains Coleman's immunity request, never granted

The first witness for the defense Monday afternoon was David Jennings, assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee.

Jennings testified that on January 9, 2007. U.S. attorneys determined that a federal crime, carjacking, had occurred. He said that allowed federal involvement. None of the other crimes were in federal jurisdiction.

He said he reviewed the initial statements from the suspects. January 17 is when Coleman gave her federal grand jury testimony. She did not invoke her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself. She spoke voluntarily.

Jennings said an immunity request form was prepared in case Coleman pleaded the Fifth, but she was never granted immunity. He described it as an "option."

Jennings said this was "a monstrous investigation" and information was only "trickling in." He said in the first few days they had "good reason" to believe there were seven witnesses to the crimes, including Christian and Newsom.

He read from the immunity request form which describes Coleman as a "witness." He said no one implicated Coleman of "physically" taking part in the crimes at that time, six days into the investigation.

"We believed Coleman was the witness to make a jury understand what happened to those kids," Jennings said.

He admitted to Lavit that all sides agreed on the date of the document that Coleman didn't commit the crimes.

The defense says Coleman's federal immunity agreement was drafted with the state's knowledge so she should not have been charged in this case.

Lavit asked about Daphne Sutton's involvement in this case. Jennings admitted that she lied to investigators and helped hide Davidson, but she wasn't charged. He said they didn't believe Sutton knew about the murders.

Jennings also said he knew about Coleman's journal when the immunity deal was drafted.

On cross examination, Jennings told prosecutor Leland Price he first learned about the crimes in the news and his life changed soon after that.

The feds were initially involved to help local investigators trace a cell phone, but eventually they charged Davidson with carjacking.

Jennings said the goal was to find out who did the crimes and "get them off the streets so they can't hurt anyone else."

The immunity for Coleman didn't mean immunity from prosecution, Jennings said. It only meant that her testimony would "not be used against her."

Jennings said he believed Coleman lied under oath in her grand jury testimony so her immunity offer was off the table.

He thought "she was definitely covering for Cobbins," trying to minimize his role in the crimes.

Coleman also lied about Newsom being brought into the Chipman Street house, Jennings said. She claimed she never saw Newsom inside it, only Christian.

On redirect, Jennings told Lavit it "doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Newsom was in that house," and referred to statements made by the other defendants.

Jennings was given Coleman's grand jury testimony to point out where he believes Coleman lied. As Lavit pressed Jennings to answer, Judge Baumgartner eventually told him that he made his point.

The jurors asked Jennings when Newsom was brought to the Chipman Street house? He told them he can't say specifically, but he believes Newsom and Christian were both led into the house.

They also asked why immunity wasn't granted to Coleman before her testimony. He said it was because she lied and that it's a special circumstance of the immunity form.

Coleman's sister testifies

Coleman's sister, Aja, took the stand late Monday afternoon for the defense to describe going to the home of Natosha Hays in Lebanon, Kentucky. Coleman, Cobbins and Thomas were taken into custody there.

She testified that she never saw her sister with a gun or saw her stash one at the house as alleged. A friend of Hays found a revolver in a shoe box under a bed after investigators searched the house.

On cross examination, she told prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald she had met Cobbins and he and her sister had been dating for a couple of months before the crimes.

She said her sister visited her home by herself after returning from Knoxville.

Coleman instructed in case she testifies

When testimony ended Monday, Judge Baumgartner instructed Coleman on her rights in case she chooses to testify in her defense.

In opening arguments, the defense said she would testify, but her attorneys seemed to be reconsidering on Monday. She's due to tell the court her decision on Tuesday.


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