KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, as well as the trials that followed, prompted leaders to make changes in the legal system with two special acts coming out of Nashville named for the young couple. The state’s highest court also recently decided to adopt a rule which was mentioned in upholding Lemaricus Davidson’s death penalty.
The Channon Christian Act was signed into law in 2014 to clarify rules regarding character evidence in trials. Under the act, evidence of crimes, wrongs or acts is not admissible to prove the character of an individual including a deceased victim, the defendant or witness. It may be admissible for other purposes, but the court upon request must hold hearing outside jury’s presence and certain conditions must be met. This was in response to claims in court that Christian and Newsom had engaged in drug use.Previous: 10 years since Christian-Newsom murders in Knoxville
The Chris Newsom Act, also signed into law in 2014, creates the presumption that a judge acts as the 13th juror following a unanimous verdict. After the original presiding judge, Richard Baumgartner, stepped down and ended up going to federal prison, the next judge, Walter Kurtz, granted a new trial to George Thomas because he said he couldn’t act as the 13th juror because he had not been there for the testimony linking Thomas to the murders. The act allows a new judge on a case to act as a 13th juror when the jury’s verdict is unanimous.
While not created necessarily by the Davidson case, the Good Faith Exception played a role in the upholding of his death sentence. Davidson’s attorneys had appealed his conviction and sentence because, among other things, the search warrant for the Chipman Street house had the judge’s signature cut off because the wrong size paper was inadvertently used in the fax machine. The exception applies when a law enforcement officer carries out a search he or she believes in good faith to be valid but later turns out not to be.