Judge refuses to recuse himself in Christian-Newsom case

Judge refuses to recuse himself in Christian-Newsom case

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Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood and District Attorney General Randy Nichols argue in court. Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood and District Attorney General Randy Nichols argue in court.

By ERICA ESTEP
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - In a court hearing that ended in a yelling match, Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood refused to recuse himself from the Channon Christian/Christopher Newsom murder and torture case.

District Attorney General Randy Nichols filed the motion earlier this month questioning Judge Blackwood's impartiality in the case, claiming the judge had already decided to grant new trials to the defendants without another hearing.

Judge Blackwood took things a step further Thursday, accusing DA Special Counsel John Gill of spreading rumors about him.

Shortly after the recusal request filing, Blackwood granted 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.

The ruling was the second time Blackwood has granted the defendants new trials. 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.

Blackwood was appointed to the case after ex-Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner pleaded guilty to official misconduct and resigned from the bench in March 2011.

Baumgartner's resignation followed a probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with evidence that he committed several crimes during the time of the trials, including doctor shopping and buying pills from a felon and Baumgartner's mistress. He was also accused of sitting on the bench at trial while under the influence of pain pills.

Blackwood has maintained in his new trials rulings that Baumgartner failed in his judicial responsibilities to serve as the "13th juror" and failed to give the defendants constitutionally sound trials.

In court Thursday, Blackwood said as soon as he was told TBI was investigating a judge, he knew it was Baumgartner. He said in pictures in the newspaper and on the news, he saw Baumgartner's dilated eyes and knew he had a drug problem.

"Somebody had to do this terrible, untasteful job. That's why I'm here," Judge Blackwood said. He added that if there was a poll of the most hated people in Knoxville, Tennessee, "me and Baumgartner are going to be neck and neck."

Blackwood said he didn't read the entire TBI report before sentencing Baumgartner because it would have been unethical.

He said he knew about Baumgartner buying pills, but had no idea what else was in TBI report. "I look like a fool. I'll be the first to admit," Judge Blackwood said.

The judge also addressed leaks from the TBI probe, saying he had all the documents in his office and he knew his secretary wasn't leaking them.

In a meeting with attorneys, Judge Blackwood said he decided to communicate by email. "Not a single person said, your honor we ought not to do it that way," he said.

Blackwood said he's 99 percent sure that attorneys leaked the information, but none of them were in the courtroom Thursday.

After Baumgartner stepped down, Judge Blackwood said, he told other judges one of two things would happen. He would report him to the court of judiciary or the state would indict him, or both.

Other judges tried to get Baumgartner to act as the 13th juror and sign off on the double murder verdicts, according to Blackwood, but Baumgartner pleaded guilty to officials misconduct and his license was suspended.

Blackwood said when he saw the motion to recuse, "I thought, yes. It's my time, baby. I thought I'm going to tell it like it's never been told before, just like my dad wanted me to. It was going to be like Jerry Springer."

However, Blackwood said he had a change of heart about the "flame throwing and blood letting" he'd planned. He realized it would embarrass others, himself and the court.

The pressures of this case have been unbearable, Blackwood said, adding that he has lost weight, been in the hospital two times over the case and his wife has begged him to quit.

"I'm not going to quit," Blackwood said. "You can take those intimidations and chalk them up, baby. It ain't going to move this old boy."

He said the Tennessee Supreme Court has ordered him to re-examine his decision, but "nowhere did it say Judge Blackwood, go have a hearing."

"I'm not going anywhere," Blackwood said. He added that if the DA's office thinks he ought to leave, they can go ahead with the motion to recuse and build their record.

Blackwood took a 10-minute recess and told prosecutors to decide during that time if they want to move forward with their motion to recuse.

Blackwood and DA Nichols wound up yelling at each other. The judge ordered Nichols to sit down when he raised an objection.

"I told you to sit down! If you stand again, you'll be in contempt of this court!" Blackwood yelled.

The judge said there's a rumor going around that he's dirty.

"If you have evidence of that you better bring it out, or self report yourselves!" he yelled at Nichols.

After the hearing, DA Special Counsel John Gill said Blackwood misunderstood his comments. He also said prosecutors have not decided if they will appeal Blackwood's decision to remain on the case.

In the end, Blackwood said he will review his decision to grant new trials to Letalvis Cobbins and LeMaricus Davidson, but not George Thomas.

Chris Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary, said Blackwood's actions Thursday prove that he should step down from the case.

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