District Attorney asks judge to step down from murder case

District Attorney asks judge to step down from Christian-Newsom case

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood
Former Judge Richard Baumgartner Former Judge Richard Baumgartner

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - District Attorney General Randy Nichols has asked a special judge to recuse himself from the Channon Christian/Christopher Newsom murder and torture case.

In a filing with the court Friday, Nichols questions Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's impartiality in the case and says the judge has already decided to grant new trials to the defendants without another hearing.

The motion claims the Blackwood will not allow the state to argue its case.

The district attorney's filing in Knox County Criminal Court says Judge Blackwood has already decided again to grant new trials to Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas, three of four defendants in the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

It would be the second time Blackwood has granted new trials to the defendants. His first rulings were made in December 2011.

A fourth defendant, Vanessa Coleman, was also granted a new trial and prosecutors are not contesting that decision.

The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled last month Blackwood used faulty legal reasoning in his first ruling and sent the case back to him for reconsideration.

In the state's motion, Nichols says Blackwood sent a letter on May 29 stating he would grant new trials at 4:00 that day. A later email said there would be "no further hearings regarding this order."

The issue that prompted Blackwood's original ruling is misconduct of former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the original trials.

Following those trials the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation showed evidence Baumgartner committed several crimes during the time of the trials, including doctor shopping and buying pills from a felon and his mistress.

It was alleged that Baumgartner presided over the trials while under the influence of pain pills.

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned from the bench in March 2011.

Blackwood ruled for new trials because he said Baumgartner failed in his responsibilities as a judge to serve as the "13th juror" and for failing to give the defendants a constitutionally sound trial.

The district attorney's filing also claims Blackwood is in incapable of providing a fair hearing because he is listening to rumors and courthouse gossip.

"I have heard rumors that Cobbins is not ready for trial," a Blackwood email is quoted in the filing.

In sending the case back to Blackwood, the Supreme Court ruled that actual proof of structural error must be shown before new trials can be granted.

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