George Thomas retrial gets underway

George Thomas retrial gets underway

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Assistant District Attorney TaKisha Fitzgerald begins opening statements with a description of the crimes. Assistant District Attorney TaKisha Fitzgerald begins opening statements with a description of the crimes.
George Thomas listens to court proceedings Monday morning. George Thomas listens to court proceedings Monday morning.
Defense attorney Stephen Johnson stressed during opening statements that George Thomas did not take part in the crimes. Defense attorney Stephen Johnson stressed during opening statements that George Thomas did not take part in the crimes.
Chris Newsom's friend Josh Anderson described what happened the night of the couple's disappearance. Chris Newsom's friend Josh Anderson described what happened the night of the couple's disappearance.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - The retrial for Christian-Newsom murder suspect George Thomas got underway Monday morning.

A jury of 16 people from Davidson County was seated on Friday. Four of those will be alternates.

The jury consists of eight white men, five black women and three white women. All ages are represented in the pool, though most are middle-aged. Two are in their 20s.

Thomas was originally found guilty on 38 charges for his alleged role in the January 2007 murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, that verdict was overturned after the original presiding judge revealed he was abusing prescription pain killers during the trial.

The jurors were bussed to Knox County from Davidson County on Sunday.

The retrial got underway Monday at 9 a.m. at the City-County Building in downtown Knoxville.

Proceedings started with the charges against Thomas being read. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Opening statements get underway

Assistant District Attorney TaKisha Fitzgerald began opening statements for the state by laying out the crimes and what happened to Channon and Chris.

She told the jury that there were four people in the car the night the couple was carjacked.

Fitzgerald describes how Newsom's body was found with gunshot wounds and had been set on fire.

She also explained how Christian's family began searching for her in the Cherry Street area after she went missing.

She explained how Channon's body was found in a garbage can and the injuries that her body had sustained.

When questioned by officers, the state said Thomas was asked why he didn't help.

"'You could have done something. That girl didn't deserve that,'" Fitzgerald quoted the interviewer. "Mr. Thomas said, '[expletive] that girl. She didn't mean anything to me.'"

Fitzgerald said it showed that he didn't care about the situation and that he was criminally responsible.

"He could have done something. He should have done something. He would have done something," she said. "The reason he didn't was because he was part of the group on Chipman Street, part of the team."

Defense attorney Stephen Johnson began his opening statements by telling jurors there was no DNA evidence linking Thomas to the crimes.

"Nothing matched George Thomas. That speaks volumes as to what his level of non-involvement was," Johnson said.

He said his client was not criminally responsible in the case because he took no actions in the crimes.

Johnson said Thomas was left at the scene with no phone and no car and that he did not participate in the conversation to steal Christian's car.

"Thomas wanted no part of this at all. He didn't rape, kidnap or murder anyone," Johnson said.

The attorney refuted the state's point about Thomas not caring, saying he wanted no part in the crimes.

Johnson said Thomas was detached during the crimes, sitting on the couch smoking marijuana blunts. Johnson said he was, "keeping his head down to survive," because he was afraid of LeMaricus Davidson.

Johnson said Thomas did not act with intent or assist in the crimes.

"All he did with the 4Runner was ride in it," the attorney said. "He was never in control. He rode in it as a passenger."

He said Thomas was in a strange city with no car, no money and no cell phone.

Johnson then cut opening statements short for a morning recess.

After recess, Johnson continued to make the point that Thomas was mentally detached during the crimes and that he continued to smoke marijuana throughout the incident.

Witness testimony begins

The state's first witness was Josh Anderson, a close friend of Chris Newsom's.

Anderson detailed the day of their disappearance, saying that he and Chris had played golf that day and he remembered Chris and Channon making dinner plans for the evening.

"We were planning on going to a party later," Anderson said.

When the couple didn't show at the party by 9 p.m., friends looked for them, but saw no sign of them, he testified.

He said he went back to the party and tried to text Channon and Chris, but when they didn't respond, he assumed they wanted to be left alone.

Anderson said he knew something wasn't right when he heard that Channon hadn't shown up for work the next day.

He testified about finding Christian's car in front of a home on Chipman Street in East Knoxville and that the stickers had been torn off the car.

Anderson said that when they located the car, the seats were leaned back further than Christian normally kept them and inside was mud and a pack of Newport cigarettes.

Anderson said neither Christian nor Newsom smoked this brand of cigarettes.

He also identified the hat and shoes Newsom had worn golfing.

Anderson told attorneys that Channon and Chris did not know George Thomas.

Channon's best friend, Kara Sowards, took the stand next.

She testified that Channon has been at her East Knoxville apartment to get ready for the party that night and talked about leaving Channon there to be picked up by Chris. She said that Chris was late that night by an hour.

When the pair didn't show up at the party, Sowards said they went back to her apartment to see if they were there, but they weren't.

She saw Chris' truck in the parking lot and found it odd, because she said Chris normally drove the two of them.

Sowards echoed much of Anderson's testimony about finding Christian's car, the seats being out of place and how the couple did not know the defendant.

She also identified several items found inside Channon's car and described what she had worn that night.

Around noon, court adjourned for lunch.

After lunch, witness after witness took the stand to describe what they saw the night the couple disappeared.

Xavier Jenkins, a Waste Connections employee, testified about seeing four people in a 4Runner the night the carjacking occurred.

Jenkins said he notified four black men inside the 4Runner and suspected that the car might be stolen.

He said he told a coworker that something "wasn't right" with the vehicle.

During cross examination, Jenkins said the men in the car "mean mugged" him or gave him attitude through their body language.

He said that he could not see their faces, but saw their outlines. He said he looked inside the car for about 30 seconds, long enough to see the four in the car and the driver's attitude.

Chipman Street resident Jerome Arnold took the stand describing what he heard coming from the area near the railroad tracks.

"I heard three loud pops," he said.

Newsom's body was found near the same railroad tracks.

Norfolk Southern engineer J.D. Ford testified about finding Newsom's body.

"It was a man. He was badly burned and he wasn't wearing any clothes," Ford said.

Family Reaction

For the last six years the Christian and Newsom family have attended every hearing and trial since their children were murdered.

Monday marked their 298th time in the courtroom, and they remained mostly emotionless as they listened to the testimony of the first day.

Mary Newsom, the mother of Chris, said this trial worries her the most because of the lack of forensic evidence. But her husband says he feels confidence in the jury.

"They have the same evidence they had before, and he got life without parole, why should they not get the same this trial?" Hugh Newsom said.

Gary Christian, the father of Channon Christian, said even without forensics, the evidence is there.

"You can't sit in that house for three days with the torture going on and not be responsible. You can't even do that and be human being," Christina said. "So I have faith in the twelve jurors that they will reach the same verdict."

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