Supreme Court overturns new trials in Christian-Newsom murders

Tennessee Supreme Court overturns new trial rulings in Christian-Newsom murders

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KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The Tennessee Supreme Court has overturned the ruling for three new trials in the Christian-Newsom murders.

The supreme court decided that Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's order granting the new trials must be vacated.

The justices said the defendants had not shown that former Judge Richard Baumgartner's misconduct outside the courtroom affected their trials. Channon Christian and Chris Newsom's families say the news is a relief, but they know their fight for justice isn't over yet.

Deena Christian said, "Today we got just a little bit of that justice and we'll just have to see if Blackwood is the judge everyone thinks he is."

Mary Newsom said, "I was excited and really in shock."

In March 2011, Baumgartner pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned from the bench. A probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation revealed he was buying prescription pain pills from Chris Gibson, a convicted felon on probation in Baumgartner's court.

The probe also found that Judge Baumgartner began obtaining his drugs by doctor shopping, then started buying them from Gibson and also became involved with Deena Castleman, one of his Drug Court graduates, in a relationship that included sex, pill sharing and paying some of her bills.

The supreme court said a trial judge's misconduct outside the courtroom does not necessarily require a new trial unless it's shown to have affected the trial proceedings.

The cases were sent back to Judge Blackwood to reconsider the defendants' motions for new trial.

The defendants are: LeMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas.

Those three, along with Cobbins' then girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, were accused in the carjacking, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom, in January 2007.

Coleman, who was the last of the four defendants to stand trial, will still receive a new trial.

"We don't have a lot of faith in the justice system because we've been fighting for five years for Channon and Chris to get justice. This is one step in the right direction and let's just hope we can jump up and down after Blackwood makes his decisions," said Channon Christian's mother, Deena.

The supreme court said its "order should not be construed as condoning or excusing" Baumgartner's misconduct.

Baumgartner was arrested on May 15 on seven federal felony counts. He's accused of knowing about violations of federal drug trafficking laws and not reporting them or concealing them.

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