Witness testimony begins in trial against Vanessa Coleman

Witness testimony begins in trial against Vanessa Coleman

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Vanessa Coleman and her attorneys listen as Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood gives jurors instructions. Vanessa Coleman and her attorneys listen as Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood gives jurors instructions.
Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald begins the trial by presenting the state's opening statement. Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald begins the trial by presenting the state's opening statement.
Defense attorney Theodore Lavit began his opening statement by saying that Coleman was merely there at the time of the crime and said there is no evidence that she was involved. Defense attorney Theodore Lavit began his opening statement by saying that Coleman was merely there at the time of the crime and said there is no evidence that she was involved.
Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald showed evidence to witness Jason Anderson. Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald showed evidence to witness Jason Anderson.
Laura Hodge, an investigator with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, also testified about her work in the case. Laura Hodge, an investigator with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, also testified about her work in the case.

By GENE PATTERSON and STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The retrial of Vanessa Coleman got underway on Tuesday morning with opening statements and witness testimony in Knoxville.

Coleman is one of four defendants in the Christian-Newsom murders.

She is charged with facilitating Channon Christian's murder, kidnapping, rape and theft. She was convicted in 2010, but was granted a new trial because of Judge Richard Baumgartner's addiction to pain pills.

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood is hearing the case. He was removed from the other three Christian-Newsom trials.

Twelve jurors and four alternates will hear the case. Eight are men and eight are women. Seven of the jurors are white and nine are black and the group represents a wide range of ages.

The jurors are from Madison County and were selected last week. They were brought to Knoxville for the trial will be sequestered until a verdict is reached.

Before testimony began, Judge Blackwood dismissed the charges against Coleman involving Christopher Newsom, saying that because she was acquitted of the charges in the first trial, trying her a second time would essentially be double jeopardy.

The prosecution's opening statements

On Tuesday, both victims' families were in attendance, as were Coleman's parents.

Opening statements began Tuesday morning with prosecutors reading the indictment against Coleman.

Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald then began describing what happened to Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom the night they died. She also began showing jurors pictures from the scene.

The state described how Channon wasn't home on time the night of her death and her father, Gary Christian, was waiting and calling her.

As prosecutors continued, Gary Christian held his head down and leaned against the chair in front of him during the description of what happened to his daughter.

"Channon Christian was found hog-tied, raped, stuffed inside trash bags. She had a trash bag tied around her mouth, nose, eyes open, stuffed inside a trash can," the state said.

"She saw LaMaricus Davidson snap a girl's neck and choke her," they continued, reading from a previous statement Coleman had given to authorities. "She saw Davidson tying her up in the fetal position."

The state detailed how the Christian and Newsom families began searching for the pair and tried to figure out where the last cell phone call was placed from and how that search lead them to Channon's car.

Several jurors took notes as prosecutors detailed the condition of the bodies when they were found.

Hugh Newsom had arm around his wife and Gary Christian had elbows on knees looking at ground as the state gave details of their children's bodies.

The state then shared Coleman's diary and read a passage from it.

"I've had one hell of an adventure since I've been in the big T.N. It's a crazy world these days, but I love the fun adventures and lessons that I've learned," Coleman wrote.

Much of the prosecution's case mirrored their case in Coleman's original trial.

As the state wrapped up, one juror appeared to be fighting back tears.

Immunity form debated

Before his opening statement, defense attorney Theodore Lavit asked the judge to admit an immunity form.

Coleman was initially granted a blanket immunity by both federal and state prosecutors in exchange for testimony against the other three defendants.

The immunity was granted before prosecutors realized her involvement in the case.

If the form were to be admitted in the case, it would mean that any testimony Coleman gave to prosecutors after signing the immunity form would be inadmissible in this case.

The prosecution argued that the form was not relevant to this case and the judge agreed and did not admit the form.

The defense's opening statements

Lavit began his opening statements by saying that Coleman was merely there at the time of the crime and said there is no evidence that she was involved.

"There will be no evidence that she witnessed it. There will be no evidence that she participated," said Lavit. "There will be no evidence that she sanctioned it or aided and abetted it or provided any kind of substantial assistance."

He said Coleman even gave Channon water during the incident.

"When no one was looking, she found a coffee cup, filled it with water and she said she snuck it in there to give the girl water," he told jurors.

He also said the others involved in the crime would whisper around her so she didn't know what was going on.

Lavit said Coleman was never alone with Channon. The defense said that Coleman, who was 18 at the time, felt that her life was threatened.

In response to the fact that Coleman had Christian's clothing in her possession from Christian's Four Runner, Lavit said that Coleman did not know the clothing was Christian's.

He also said that Letalvis Cobbins was sitting behind Coleman while she was writing in journal.

The defense then wrapped up opening arguments.

Witnesses begin testimony

The prosecution then called its first witness, Christopher Newsom's best friend Josh Anderson.

Anderson explained how he was supposed to meet up with Channon and Chris that evening and kept trying to call them.

He described spotting Channon's vehicle and saw mud and Newport cigarettes inside. He remarked that the seats in the car were leaned way back further than Channon normally left them.

Anderson said that when Channon's car was found, the Tennessee stickers had been taken off as if someone was trying to disguise the car, which made her friends concerned.

He also identified Newsom's shoes and cap and began going over the evidence in the case.

Just before noon, a recess was called for lunch.

After lunch, Channon's best friend of 12 years, Kara Soward took the stand. Soward told the court she now works for the District Attorney helping coordinate witnesses.

She identified several of Channon's possessions that were discovered in Coleman's purse as well as the clothing Christian wore the night of her death.

The next witness called was Xavier Jenkins, a truck driver with Waste Management, which is located on the same street as the house where Christian and Newsom were held against their will.

Jenkins testified that he saw four black men in Christian's Toyota Four Runner and that they gave him a mean look, which he described as a "mean mug", as they drove by.

He said he suspected that the car might have been stolen and felt "eerie" about the situation.

Witnesses said Coleman appeared bored as she listened to witness testimony during the afternoon.

Adrienne Mathis, the cousin of Eric Boyd, who was found guilty in federal court of carjacking Channon's SUV, also took the stand.

Several witnesses who were in the area at the time of the crime also took the stand.

Witness J.D. Ford testified about finding the burned remains of Christopher Newsom near the railroad tracks behind the Chipman Street house.

As he did, Hugh Newsom rubbed his wife's shoulder. Gary Christian held his head in his hands.

A worker with the state Fire Marshal's office and a forensics officer with the Knoxville Police Department also testified about responding to the crime scene and their investigations.

Laura Hodge, an investigator with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, also testified about her findings in the case, specifically answering questions about accelerants that may have been used to start a fire.

The defense asked her if she had any evidence that connected Coleman to the use of an accelerant.

Lavit said that much of the prosecution's testimony did not relate to the case against his client, leading to a brief argument between prosecutors and the defense.

The disagreement became loud enough that Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood dismissed the jury while they discussed the issue.

More than ten witnesses took the stand on Tuesday. Many were investigators with Knoxville police and the TBI.

Judge Blackwood dismissed jurors just after 6:00 p.m.

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