Jury gets Coleman case in Christian-Newsom murders

Jury gets Coleman case in Christian-Newsom murders

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Vanessa Coleman Vanessa Coleman
"They (investigators) wanted to use her as a witness," Greg Coleman told defense attorney Theodore Lavit, and he advised her to "be truthful." "They (investigators) wanted to use her as a witness," Greg Coleman told defense attorney Theodore Lavit, and he advised her to "be truthful."
Linda Coleman testified that Vanessa cried, and said she was scared because she saw what Davidson did. "I saw a whole lot of bad stuff." Linda Coleman testified that Vanessa cried, and said she was scared because she saw what Davidson did. "I saw a whole lot of bad stuff."
Prosecutor Leland Price insisted that Coleman stayed in the house and held Christian against her will while Newsom was killed. "This was a complex crime. It took a group." Prosecutor Leland Price insisted that Coleman stayed in the house and held Christian against her will while Newsom was killed. "This was a complex crime. It took a group."
Defense attorney Theodore Lavit called what happened to the victims "a horrendous tragedy, and I feel for their families but it's not about sympathy, is it?" Defense attorney Theodore Lavit called what happened to the victims "a horrendous tragedy, and I feel for their families but it's not about sympathy, is it?"

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The jury got the case against Vanessa Coleman in the Christian-Newsom murders Tuesday evening and will begin deliberating on Wednesday.

Both sides gave their closing arguments Tuesday afternoon.

Coleman is charged in the robberies, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom, in January 2007 in Knoxville.

The couple disappeared the night of January 6 after they were carjacked. The bound body of Chris was found the next day 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 and her ex-boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins, and his friend, George Thomas, came from Kentucky and were visiting Cobbins' half-brother, LeMaricus Davidson, at the time. He and his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, rented the house where Christian's body was found.

Cobbins was sentenced to life without parole on August 26, 2009.

Davidson was sentenced to the death penalty on October 30, 2009.

Thomas was sentenced to life in prison without parole on December 10, 2009.

State's closing argument: Coleman was involved

Prosecutor Leland Price told the jury that Vanessa Coleman came to Knoxville voluntarily and the Chipman Street house was full of guns so anyone who came in knew they were armed.

Coleman had a chance to leave before the murders, Price said, when Thomas' ex-girlfriend, Stacey Lawson, went back to Kentucky, but Coleman chose to stay.

Price pointed out that when Davidson got rough with his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, she left, getting a ride from a friend. She wasn't held against her will, he said.

Coleman knew about the carjacking plan and after it happened, Price said she didn't call her parents to come get her because she was involved with the crimes.

He argued that Christian and Newsom were brought into the house, bound and raped and there was no way Coleman didn't know what was happening to them.

Price insisted that Coleman stayed in the house and held Christian against her will while Newsom was killed. "This was a complex crime. It took a group."

When Sutton returned to the Chipman Street house on Sunday, Price said Davidson blocked her from getting her stuff because she wasn't in on the crimes, and they didn't trust her.

That's the difference between her and Coleman, he told the jurors because some had questions about her lack of charges during the testimony. He said the men didn't mind if Coleman was there and saw everything.

Price insinuated that Coleman kicked Christian in the crotch because "She was angry over her boyfriend (Cobbins)," raping Christian. The defense didn't object to this, although they could have.

Coleman didn't try to get away or tell anyone what happened when her trio and their driver stopped at a convenience store on their way back to Kentucky, Price said.

He pointed out that she also didn't tell anyone what happened when she went to the doctor because she wasn't feeling well. Instead, he said she set up an alibi.

He asked if she was a man, would there be any doubt of her guilt?

Coleman's journal describes the "nightmare" period that ended Christian and Newsom's lives as "one hell of an adventure," Price told the jury as the state showed photos of the victims. 

Defense's closing argument: It's not about sympathy

Defense attorney Theodore Lavit told the jury there's no evidence against Coleman, calling the state's case "insinuation and speculation."

Lavit called what happened to the victims "a horrendous tragedy, and I feel for their families but it's not about sympathy, is it?"

There are 321 charges involved in this case Lavit said. "You'll have to decide."

He also assured the jurors that just because someone is at the scene of a crime doesn't make her criminally responsible.

Lavit said on the verdict forms, there's only guilty or not guilty instead of guilty or innocent so even if Coleman was there, without evidence she must be acquitted.

He mentioned his own witness, U.S. attorney David Jennings, and said his feeling "in his gut" that Coleman was guilty wasn't enough.

Maybe Coleman should've known better than to get hooked up with Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas, Lavit said but again, her presence alone doesn't make her guilty.

A Chipman Street neighbor heard gunshots but no screams, Lavit said, and suggested that Christian was gagged, unconscious or beaten senseless.

No testimony has contradicted that Coleman was in the Chipman Street house alone not knowing what was happening during the carjacking, Lavit said.

He insisted she wasn't left alone with Christian at any time.

State's rebuttal closing: Inconsistencies

Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald walked the jurors through Coleman's statements and pointed out what she said were the inconsistencies.

Coleman said she could hear people whispering while she was in the shower, but she couldn't hear Christian cry out or scream, Fitzgerald asked.

She reminded the jury that Coleman said she went riding with the killers after she saw Davidson snap Christian's neck "because she wanted a candy bar."

Fitzgerald also brought up Coleman's DNA on Christian's floral bindings.

Deliberations Wednesday

Before closing arguments, Judge Richard Baumgartner read the charge which explains the possible verdicts to the jury.

The key question for the jury to consider is whether Coleman is criminally responsible for what happened. Did she benefit from the crimes?

The judge said the jurors won't start deliberations until Wednesday.

The defense rested its case in its second day Tuesday after Coleman's parents testified in the morning.

Before testimony started Tuesday, Vanessa Coleman decided not to testify in her own defense. In opening arguments, the defense said she would testify, but on Monday there were rumblings this had changed.

Coleman's father unaware she witnessed murders at first

The defense's first witness Tuesday was Vanessa Coleman's father, Gregory Coleman. He lives in Springfield, Kentucky, and works as a kitchen supervisor at a prison.

He was with Vanessa during several interviews in 2007, including one locating crime scenes in Knoxville.

"They (investigators) wanted to use her as a witness," he told defense attorney Theodore Lavit, and he advised her to "be truthful."

However, Greg Coleman testified that authorities kept telling his daughter she wasn't telling the truth.

Greg Coleman testified that ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner called them about the leaking of Vanessa's name to the media.

"He (Waggoner) wanted to protect her. She was afraid that a gang...that something would happen to her," her father said. This led to Vanessa being put in protective custody.

Her father said Vanessa soon decided she wanted out of protective custody because "They weren't protecting her." He said people at the motel caused problems.

Greg Coleman said his home was surrounded on January 31 when authorities came to interview his daughter. "I thought it was very unusual."

On Sunday morning after the carjacking, her father said Vanessa was forced to cook breakfast for the other three defendants. She said there was loud music and the TV was on. He said he didn't know she was in Knoxville at the time.

On cross examination, Greg Coleman told prosecutor Leland Price he loves Vanessa and if she had told him she was in trouble, "I would have tried to do something to help her," but he added that he wouldn't break the law.

He said he wanted Vanessa to stay home after she was being questioned about the crimes, but she wanted to stay with friends.

Greg Coleman said he didn't see Vanessa during Christmas of 2006, and on redirect he explained to Lavit that it wasn't a reason to get together because they're Jehovah's Witnesses.

Price asked her father if he was ever told Vanessa would be immune from prosecution in this case, and he said no.

The jury asked what hours Greg Coleman works and he told them "3:00 in the morning till late in the day some days."

Jurors also asked Greg Coleman if he thought it was true that Vanessa was a witness until she gave untruthful answers. He said yes, he thought she was intended to be a witness.

Coleman's mother admits daughter didn't call during crimes

Vanessa Coleman's mother, Linda Coleman, took the stand next for the defense. She works at Washington County High School in Springfield, Kentucky and at a Kroger store.

She said Vanessa had money from work and Christmas money during the weekend of the murders.

Vanessa told her mother Cobbins got mad at her and threw her against a wall in Knoxville about a week after she said it happened. She had a cut on her ankle and said she hit her head, Linda Coleman testified.

Vanessa called her mother on Monday after the murders and said she was back and didn't feel good. Her mother said she made a doctor's appointment for Vanessa, and she went.

Eventually Vanessa told her mother about the murders. She said Vanessa cried, and said she was scared because she saw what Davidson did. "I saw a whole lot of bad stuff."

Linda Coleman said she tried to persuade Vanessa to tell the truth to authorities.

ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner said Vanessa was a witness, not a suspect, Linda testified. She said authorities showed no animosity toward Vanessa and told her she was a witness several times.

Waggoner set up a ruse for putting Vanessa in protective custody, Linda said. He told her to say she was his maid and staying at a motel because the A/C was broken.

However, Linda Coleman said they wanted out of protective custody because they didn't feel they were being looked after. Police were looking for a woman at the motel where they stayed.

Vanessa tried to get away from the Chipman Street house, but she was brought back at gunpoint, her mother said.

She told prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald that she knows her daughter and she would have gotten out if she could have.

Fitzgerald repeatedly made the point that Vanessa didn't call her mother for help when she had the chance. She only called after she got back to Kentucky.

Vanessa said she saw Davidson snap Christian's neck, her mother said.

On redirect, Linda Coleman told Lavit her daughter didn't have a phone in Knoxville and Davidson wouldn't let her use one. She said collect calls were blocked at their home.

The jury asked why the Colemans had collect calls blocked, and Linda explained that a family member often called collect in the past, running up the bill.


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