Media vs. suspects' attorneys on Christian - Newsom murders coverage

Media vs. suspects' attorneys on Christian - Newsom murders coverage

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Lemaricus Davidson Lemaricus Davidson
Letalvis Cobbins Letalvis Cobbins
George Thomas George Thomas
Vanessa Coleman Vanessa Coleman

By HANA KIM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) -- Judge Richard Baumgartner heard arguments Friday on motions filed by The Knoxville News Sentinel and WBIR over online comments posted in coverage of the legal process for four suspects charged with murdering Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

The couple was killed in January 2007 and the charges accuse the suspects of kidnapping and raping them first.

Both the victims were white. All four suspects, Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman are black. 

Attorneys for the newspaper and the NBC news affiliate say they have the First Amendment and guarantee of free press on their side.

Judge Baumgartner asked the attorney for the News Sentinel, Rick Hollow, how the process is different if someone sent questionable content to the paper in a letter to the editor, vs. posting comments online.

Hollow argued that the First Amendment protects free speech for everyone and that's allowed online by the processes the paper uses.

However, attorneys for all four suspects claim the Sixth Amendment assures their clients fair trials.

The suspects' attorneys have filed motions about the ability of people on the News Sentinel and WBIR's Web sites to post anonymous comments on stories.

Cobbins' attorney, Scott Green, says he's received death threats on the Web sites and has asked Judge Baumgartner to throw the media from the courtroom or take him off the case. Those comments have since been removed from the sites.

Green, along with Thomas' attorney, Tom Dillard, and Coleman's attorney, Theodore Lavit, asked Friday for all those posting comments to include their real names and contact information before being allowed to post.

Green said in court, if people want to criticize him online they should put their names on their comments and own them.

The attorneys argued with attorneys for the media about what would be done with that information and how the media could police discussions about the case.

The suspects' attorneys also argued that the media is using online comments to hype coverage of the case and generate revenue from their Web sites. The media attorneys disagreed.

Another argument brought by the suspects' attorneys is that the media's online comments may taint the jury pools in the trials.

The jury pool for at least one of the suspects, Cobbins, will be brought in from outside Knox County.

On Friday afternoon, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Bernard Waggoner, released statements from Coleman for the first time saying she saw Davidson choke Channon Christian and snap her neck.

Coleman claimed she threatened to call police, the investigator testified, but Davidson threatened to kill her.

It was also revealed Friday that the prosecution offered Coleman life in prison if she agreed to plead guilty in this case. However, she declined the offer.

Waggoner testified that Coleman said she heard Christian was told to do what she was told if she wanted to live.

Coleman also told investigators George Thomas said Davidson had sex with Christian, Waggoner testified.

Plus, Waggoner testified that Coleman told him she later saw Davidson drag Christian's body to the living room (of the house where her body was found on Chipman Street) then covered her with trash bags and stuff her into a garbage can.

Coleman's attorney, Theodore Lavit, brought the statements to light Friday because he's seeking to suppress them from evidence in trial.

The parents of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were in the courtroom Friday.

Gary Christian says the hearings never get any easier. "It's hard to listen to. It's hard to hear it. We know. We've read it. We've seen it. It won't be the last time we hear it. Does it make me mad, oh yes."

"It makes us want justice even more and as far as we're concerned, we don't want anyone to forget so as far as that goes, if they shut those blogs down I'll come see you every week," Channon's mother, Deena Christian, added.

In October 2008, Eric Boyd was convicted of being an accessory after the fact of the murders. The Christians and the Newsoms were at the trial.

The next hearing is scheduled for March 13.

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