Judge hears motions for Christian-Newsom murder retrials

Judge hears motions for Christian-Newsom murder retrials

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Judge Walter Kurtz (right) is being asked to grant new trials for LeMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas. Judge Walter Kurtz (right) is being asked to grant new trials for LeMaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas.
"Respectfully, you didn't hear those witnesses and you didn't hear this case," Attorney David Eldridge argued to Judge Kurtz. "Respectfully, you didn't hear those witnesses and you didn't hear this case," Attorney David Eldridge argued to Judge Kurtz.

By STEPHANIE BEECKEN
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A new judge is hearing motions on whether three of the Christian-Newsom murder defendants will get new trials.

A hearing began at 9:00 a.m. for LeMaricus Davidson with Judge Walter Kurtz, who was put on the case earlier this year. Attorneys for Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas also presented similar motions.

All three defendants were present in court. Each side was given 45 minutes to present their case.

During a presentation to the judge on why Davidson should get a new trial, his attorney tried to raise a claim he made during Davidson's first trial.

Attorney David Eldridge argued that Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were in the Chipman Street neighborhood to buy drugs on the night they were murdered and could have been in the house willingly.

The judge noted that in Davidson told police he had never seen the couple before that night. Judge Kurtz asked if Eldridge wanted to discredit his own client's statement to police.

Eldridge said Davidson made that statement without an attorney present.

In the police interview, which the state replayed during the hearing, Davidson claimed the other defendants abducted the couple and that he left the house to avoid being involved.

"We have proof in the record that there was some drug use by both Ms. Christian and Mr. Newsom," Eldridge said. Christian's father, Gary, left the courtroom upon hearing the testimony.

"Seeing them doesn't bother me. Someone who attacks my daughter, that's what bothers me and she's not here to defend herself," Christian later told 6 News.

Eldridge also argued that Christian had a consensual, sexual relationship with Davidson, which, he said, could explain why his DNA was found on her body.

The jury in the first trial was not convinced of this argument and convicted Davidson of first degree murder, as well as kidnapping them before their murders. He was sentenced to death.

Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald pointed out that Davidson stated during one interview that there was no way his DNA would be on Christian.

She questioned why Davidson would not have admitted to having a consensual with her at that point and argued that evidence was key in the case and that witness credibility was not an overriding issue.

Another argument Eldridge made for the retrials was that Judge Kurtz was not fit to sit as the 13th juror because he could not make decisions about witness credibility through just court records.

"Respectfully, you didn't hear those witnesses and you didn't hear this case," Eldridge said to Judge Kurtz.

Next up were attorneys for George Thomas, who was convicted and sentenced to life without parole for his role in the crimes.

Thomas's attorney Steve Johnson said Thomas was at the Chipman Street house, where the majority of the crimes were committed, but said he did not participate in the crimes.

"He did not act morally. Should he have acted? Yes. But legally, is that a crime? No," Johnson argued.

Thomas's attorneys said his DNA was not found on the victims and that the case is circumstantial.

The state said Thomas did participate in the crimes and that Judge Kurtz could act as 13th juror.

"If he was not guilty if he had no involvement why did he not go to the police and say I was there I was just a fly on the wall but this is what I saw," said Assistant District Attorney Leland Price.

Lastly Letalvis Cobbins' motion was heard.

His attorney, Kim Parton, said the case should be retried based on structural error.

"An addict was sitting in judgment of Mr. Cobbins and made rulings on upwards of 150 motions pre-trial," said attorney Kim Parton.

Parton also said they should have been given more time before going to trial and that there should have been a change of venue.

When the judged asked her if she had an issue with him serving as the 13th juror, she responded, "I cannot stand here and say that there were overriding issues of witness credibility. There's a witness credibility issue at any trial."

The state agreed that witness credibility was not an overriding issue at the trial due to the amount of evidence presented.

Judge Kurtz said that the motions for all three retrials would be decided by mid-January.

Davidson will be back in court on Jan. 10, 2013, when the judge will weigh an argument made by his attorney that a religious service held by the jurors during his initial trial may have influenced their ruling with regard to the death penalty.

Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas were granted new trials by Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood after ex-judge Richard Baumgartner admitted to a painkiller addiction.

Judge Blackwood was later recused from the case and Judge Kurtz was assigned to hear it.

"Judge Kurtz is going to take a fresh look at the motions for a new trial," said 6 News legal analyst Greg Isaacs. "There is a chance that they may not be granted. So you know with all the publicity. all the trial dates, all of the legal wrangling that's been going on it may just end and end very quickly."

If Judge Kurtz decides to reverse Judge Blackwood's ruling for new trials, that is not the end of court wrangling by the defendants.

"If he refuses to grant the motions for new trials they will not be heard in Knox County," Isaacs said. "They will go directly to the Court of Appeals, so really a very dramatic day."

The fourth defendant in the case, Vanessa Coleman, was also granted a new trial. Her trial took place late last month after state prosecutors did not contest the judge's decision in her case.

Coleman was found guilty of 13 of 17 counts in her new trial and is awaiting sentencing in February.

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