Judge hands the case over to the jury in George Thomas retrial

Judge hands the case over to the jury in George Thomas retrial

Posted: Updated: May 16, 2013 08:11 PM
George Thomas was put on the stand to tell the judge he was declining his right to testify. George Thomas was put on the stand to tell the judge he was declining his right to testify.
Defense attorney Stephen Johnson instructed jurors to look at the evidence rather than making an emotional response. Defense attorney Stephen Johnson instructed jurors to look at the evidence rather than making an emotional response.
Assistant District Attorney Leland Price concluded the state's summation by making several points about how Thomas was a member of the team of murders. Assistant District Attorney Leland Price concluded the state's summation by making several points about how Thomas was a member of the team of murders.
Judge Walter Kurtz instructs jurors on the charges they are to decide. Judge Walter Kurtz instructs jurors on the charges they are to decide.

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - A dozen jurors from Davidson County were handed the task Thursday afternoon of deciding the guilt or innocence of George Thomas in the brutal murders of Knoxville couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

After going over evidence Thursday, the jurors was sent home to continue deliberations on Friday.

Thomas is one of four defendants in the case. He was originally convicted on 38 counts and sentenced to life in prison without a chance at parole, but the verdicts were thrown out because the original judge later revealed that he was addicted to pain pills while presiding over the trial.

Judge Walter Kurtz told the jurors to have lunch first before beginning deliberations.

Day four of the retrial began with a surprise when shortly after the state completed presenting its case against Thomas defense attorneys rested their case without presenting any witnesses.

After Assistant District Attorney Leland Price told the court the state rested, attorney Steve Johnson made a motion asking the judge to dismiss the charges, stating that the state had failed to prove its case.

Judge Kurtz denied the motion. Thomas was then put on the stand to tell the judge he was declining his right to testify.

A short time later the defense rested. No evidence was presented to the jury by the defense.

State makes closing statements

Assistant District Attorney TaKisha Fitzgerald made the first of the state's closing arguments, painting the image of Thomas as being part of the team in the crimes.

"He knows what's taking place in that house," she said. "You've seen the injuries to Channon Christian and that she's been screaming all night long."

She laid out each charge against Thomas, explaining to jurors why she believes Thomas is guilty.

On the charge of premeditated murder in the death of Christopher Newsom, Fitzgerald said that the fact that Newsom was gagged and shot multiple times establishes that the murder was premeditated.

She said Thomas acted with the intent to promote and benefit from the crime. She said he was able to walk out of the house and go to the store with Chris Newsom's money, so he had the ability to leave.

"He wants to give the impression that he left in the interview, but he gave six different versions of the story," Fitzgerald said.

She said Thomas knew they were going to carjack the car and they even had a discussion about the additional crimes.

Thomas told you the names of the four black males involved in driving around in the car because he was there, Fitzgerald told jurors.

He saw and heard the rape of Newsom, she said.

She said the group had no money, but then after getting the victims' money, a cellphone is activated and he calls his girlfriend, Stacy Lawson. He was up and awake at that time.

"We know Thomas is with Davidson during this time because he gives the phone back to Davidson to make a call. Thomas is there and up," she said.

"You've seen what happened to Chris and Channon. You know they were screaming," Fitzgerald said. "He was next to the table where the blindfold was found."

Channon's phone was going off with concerned friends. They told Channon to call her parents so people would stop calling. That's why the 12:30 a.m. call was made, Fitzgerald said.

The assistant DA said that Thomas was only a few blocks away from a police department in Kentucky, but he didn't report the crimes.

She said in questioning that he could have helped investigators, but instead he tried to save his buddies.

Defense makes the case for innocence

Attorney Stephen Johnson began closing statements for the defense.

He told jurors that Thomas was not guilty and said to look at the evidence rather than making an emotional response.

A witness said they had to bring in a truck to pull evidence from the house, he said, but investigators found no DNA of Thomas.

"There's been no evidence presented to you that he was present when anything was done with Chris Newsom," Johnson said.

The state says you only have to prove an element to be criminally responsible, Johnson said, but there's no proof he acted.

"Is him saying 'Chill out' promoting the crime? How has he aided? There's no proof of that," he said. "He has to act with that certain intent, but then he has to do more stuff to be guilty."

Johnson said Thomas was not in favor of jacking the car. The knowledge of the crime does not make him criminally responsible. He has to act, he said.

"Yes, he was at the house when they brought in Chris and Channon, but mere presence doesn't make him criminally responsible," Johnson said.

He also made the point that Thomas was never in control of the 4Runner, just a passenger.

Johnson also pointed to a comment made by Knox County investigators in the audio recording that called Thomas the most innocent person in the whole thing.

He said when Chris and Channon were brought into the home, Thomas was thinking, "I need to go."

Johnson reminded jurors that Thomas didn't have a gun.

He said the interview with investigators was an example of how not to conduct an interview.

He reiterated that there was no proof that Thomas was present when Channon and Chris were murdered.

Defense attorney Tom Dillard added that Thomas didn't encourage anyone in the crime.

"Just because they were friends, doesn't make Thomas responsible," he said.

He pointed out that a statement made by the Knox County investigator wasn't put on record until 17 months after the interview took place.

The investigator alleged that after the recording equipment was turned off, Thomas was asked why he didn't help and he responded, 'F--- that white girl.'"

Johnson said the statement was brought up for shock value.

Final state summation

Assistant District Attorney Leland Price concluded the state's summation by making several points about how Thomas was a member of the team of murders.

"Did she see G as her savior or him on the other team, someone she had to get past to get by that front door when he's sitting there rolling a joint? He's one of her captors," he said, referring to Christian. G is a nickname of Thomas'.

Price reminded jurors that co-defendant Lemaricus Davidson gave Thomas a phone to make calls.  

"Davidson is not going to loan his phone to someone who is not on the team," Price said.

Price hammered home his point about Thomas being a team member by noting that even after the crimes, Thomas wrote letters to Davidson and another co-defendant, Letalvis Cobbins, while in prison.

The attorney also reinforced his interpretation of the definition of "criminally responsible."

"No particular act of the defendant needs to be shown and the defendant need not have taken physical part in the crime in order to be held criminally responsible," he said.

Victims' families relieved to be done

Both families say they are satisfied with the way closing arguments went.

The statements were nothing new. They have heard the arguments all before numerous times at George Thomas's first trial and the trials for his co-defendants.

This week has gone faster than the other cases, which pleased the victims' families. In fact, Gary Christian, Channon's father,said he won't be coming back if there are anymore retrials.

"This is going to be my last time. I'm not going to subject my family to any more of this," he said.

"I will be here any time we have to be," said Deena. "I wouldn't say no. You never know."

"We've been through seven trials. This is 301 times we've been up here. I'm just worn out physically, to tell you the truth," said Hugh Newsom.

"I don't think we could go through the eighth time. It's just too many times," said Mary Newsom.

Hugh Newsom also pointed out that this retrial doesn't mean starting from scratch.

Because the jury in Thomas's first trial voted against the death penalty, he is not eligible for it this time around.

The maximum sentence he can get now is life in prison without parole, which is what the last jury gave him.

6 News Reporters STEPHANIE BEECKEN and JILL MCNEAL contributed to this report.

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