KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE)- Jury selection is set to begin Monday for the trial of Eric Boyd, the long-suspected fifth person involved in the murders of Channon Christian, 21, and Chris Newsom, 23 in January 2007.
For 12 years and nearly 400 court appearances, the Christian and Newsom families have continued to fight for justice in honor of their children. That fight even resulting in several new laws.
Boyd was convicted in April 2008 of federal charges of accessory after the fact, not for the murders or rapes. He is the only suspect connected to the murders of Christain and Newsom tried at a federal level, the rest were convicted in state trials.
“Eric Boyd has not been prosecuted fully, and until that’s done, my healing will not begin,” said Hugh Newsom, Chris’s father, speaking to WATE 6 On Your Side in 2017.
For the families, Boyd’s trial would put him in jail longer than his current 18-year sentence.
“I’ve said it for 10 years. I’ll say it forever. He is getting away with murder,” said Deena, Channon’s mother.
In a preliminary hearing a week before, a judge indicated there would be two pools of potential jurors, one set to arrive Monday at Knox County Criminal Court, the second on Tuesday, if counsel is unable to agree on the 16-person jury.
Seventy-five candidates will report Monday, and at last mention, they will stand outside the courtroom, brought in one-by-one.
There is also a questionnaire to highlight any explicit conflicts with a jurors ability to serve throughout the trial.
“If I could sit in there and hear guilty over and over and over, I might get a little bit of sleep.”Gary Christian, father of Channon
Boyd was friends with ring-leader Lemaricus Davidson, who was 25-years-old in January 2007, and a convicted felon. Davidson didn’t have a job, sold drugs, and didn’t have a vehicle. The two were connected more than a decade before the 2007 murders, committing a string of robberies.
Davidson lived in a rental house at 2316 Chipman Street. He was short on money – had yet to pay his January rent, and owed money for newly bought furniture (a fact that would later place him at the location where investigators later determined the Knoxville couple was abducted).
In December 2006, three more people moved into Davidson’s Chipman Street house: Letalvis Cobbins, Davidson’s half-brother; Vanessa Coleman, Cobbins’ friend; George Thomas, boyfriend to the group’s driver, Stacey Lawson.
The four people (Cobbins, Coleman, Thomas, Davidson) would be convicted in the years following, including Davidson who is currently serving two death sentences on multiple counts of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated, kidnapping, aggravated rape, and facilitating aggravated rape.
Heinous Crimes on Chipman Street: January 6-10, 2007
Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend Chris Newsom, 23, did not arrive at a friend’s party on January 6, 2007, and never returned home to their parents. They were last seen at the Washington Ridge Apartments.
They planned to have dinner together and then attend a party at a friend’s house in the Halls area, a 10-minute drive from the Washinton Ridge Apartments.
At the same time as the couple was planning their night, Davidson was planning to be at the same apartment complex, setup to pay for recently purchased furniture and bedding. His original agreement, which documents show he wasn’t truly able to pay, was to pay the woman up to $100 every other week for what he bought.
The date they agreed to meet for the payment: Saturday January 6, the same night Christain and Newsom were in the apartment parking lot. Targeted as part of a carjacking, led by Davidson.
Around 10:00 p.m., when Christian and Newsom hadn’t arrived at the party, friends called and texted—receiving no reply. An hour later, Chris’ friends went to look for him only to find his truck in the parking lot of the apartment complex and Channon’s 2005 Toyota 4Runner was gone.
Narrative included in Davidson’s later court appeal would show that sometime between 9:10 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., Christian and Newsom were kidnapped from the parking lot of the apartments and taken in Christain’s vehicle to Davidson’s home on Chipman Street.
January 7: Just after midnight the next day, Xavier Jenkins, an employee of Waste Connections on Chipman Street, arrived for his shift and was in his car outside of the Waste Connections parking lot.
Just after midnight the next day, Xavier Jenkins, an employee of Waste Connections on Chipman Street, arrived for his shift and was in his car outside of the Waste Connections parking lot.
Narrative from court-documents paraphrases what Jenkin’s later reported to law enforcement about what he saw:
“From where Mr. Jenkins was parked, he could see across the street to Mr. Davidson‘s house and noticed Channon‘s vehicle parked in front of it. The porch lights were on, and the house seemed to be ―pretty busy‖ for that time of night. He had never seen Channon‘s vehicle before that evening.”STATE OF TENNESSEE v. LEMARICUS DEVALL DAVIDSON Automatic Appeal from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal Court for Knox County No. 86216B Walter C. Kurtz, Senior Judge1
Tim Miller was the first reporter from WATE on the scene.
“We started hearing on Sunday from family members that two young people were missing and that is when we learned of the discovery of Chris’s body,” he shared in a 2017 interview.
The same day, a railroad employee discovered Newsom’s severely burned body near the train tracks, close to Chipman Street. Newsom had been shot, his hands tied behind his back, eyes covered with a bandana, a sock stuffed in his mouth, and a sweatshirt wrapped around his head.
January 8: In the hours that followed, fear set in about Channon Christian’s fate. Chris Newsom’s own father fought back tears.
“He would not have hesitated one moment with her in danger, without putting his own life on the line. He was that type,” said Hugh Newsom in 2007.
Meanwhile, friends and family started their own massive search, leading to Channon Christian’s abandoned Toyota 4Runner, not far from where Newsom’s body had been found.
January 9: fingerprints in the car led to Davidson’s house on Chipman Street where a body was found, but not immediately identified.
Friends and family feared the worst and later investigators confirmed Christian was dead. She was found in a trash can – beaten, raped and with bleach poured down her throat. The medical examiner determined she suffocated in the trash can.
WATE 6 On Your Side legal analyst and attorney Greg Isaacs remembered what it was like as the true details of the crime started leaking out.
“Then the injuries and the extent of the torture, and how the victims were found started permeating out. And you could tell… veteran prosecutors were impacted and couldn’t talk about it,” he said. “This was a very horrific and sinister crime that touched everyone involved and started permeating throughout the community.”
January 10: A search warrant provided law enforcement with more information based on evidence and the personal items of both Christain and Newsom found in Davidson’s house.
The items found included photographs Christain kept in her car, some of the clothes she was last seen wearing, an iPod with the inscription ‘Channon Christain, Mom and Dad, we love you’, and two of Newsom’s baseball hats, one of which he was last seen wearing.
The Manhunt and Boyd’s Role
The first two names released by police were half brothers Davidson and Cobbins. Davidson was already facing aggravated robbery and carjacking charges. He had not been out of prison for long and was wanted in Knoxville for driving on a suspended license.
A tip a day later led to Lebanon, Kentucky. State, federal and local law enforcement agencies – including the Knox County sheriff himself – teamed up to arrest Cobbins and another suspect, George Thomas.
The finger pointing started immediately. During interrogation, Cobbins said he saw Davidson and another suspect, Eric Boyd, commit the carjacking.
“They jump out of the car and run to a white SUV and, um, there were two people – a man and a woman at the SUV. They jump in, pointing guns at them and… and um… they carjacked them, I guess,” said Cobbins during a recorded interrogation.
The same day Cobbins was caught, the search in Knoxville led to a home on Reynolds Street and Lemaricus Davidson. It later came out that it was Boyd who had told police to go there.
Davidson was arrested by the Knoxville Police Department Special Operations team, found with Chris‘s size Nike shoes and a .22 caliber High Standard revolver.
Police said at the time they had everyone they were looking for, but a few days later there was another arrest in Kentucky: Cobbins’s girlfriend Vanessa Coleman. She had admitted to being at Chipman Street the night of the crime and that she had been told it was Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas who burned Newsom’s body.
She also told investigators she saw the men repeatedly go in and out of the bedroom where Channon Christian was tied up and blindfolded.
“It was after he choked her and she was laying on the floor. He hollered at me to come in there and check on her pulse. He said that he couldn’t tell if she was dead or not,” she said in a police interview.
Meanwhile, Davidson had also been talking to investigators. The specifics of his story kept changing over the course of two and a half hours as he laid blame on the others – Cobbins for the carjacking, Thomas for killing Newsom and he insisted he did not rape Christian.
Death for Davidson, state trial starts for Boyd
April 2008, Eric Boyd faced charges as an accessory after the fact, not for the murders or rapes, despite what the other suspects told police. He was the first to go to trial.
In a police interrogation tape, Boyd portrayed Davidson as the killer. The defense said Boyd stopped helping Davidson after learning his parts in the murders. The verdict was guilty and the sentence was 18 years. The Christian and Newsom families recognized this was only the start.
August 2009: Letalvis Cobbins was the defendant in the first state trial. A jury was brought in from Nashville because of all the publicity. Cobbins started the trial by entering surprise guilty pleas to lesser charges.
“Letalvis Cobbins made bad choices. He’s manned up this morning and taken ownership of them,” said his attorney at the trial.
Evidence from Channon Christian’s rape kit showed DNA from Cobbins and Davidson. The most graphic testimony came from the medical examiner: signs of multiple attackers and the news that both Channon Christian and Chris Newsom had been raped. Christian was raped repeatedly and left to suffocate in a trash can. Newsom was bound, gagged, shot execution style, and burned. Grim photographs left a mark on the people who saw them.
“I saw a few of the pictures. It’s just very difficult. I don’t know how the families listened to the testimony and looked at these pictures, but it was important, I think, for people to understand this is what happened to these people and this is what happened in Knoxville,” said former WATE anchor Gene Patterson.
The defense maintained that while Cobbins was there for the carjacking and kidnapping, and did rape Christian, it was his older half brother Davidson who had done the killing. Another surprise was when Cobbins himself took the stand.
“She said, ‘Please can you just convince him to let me go?’ I said I’ll try,” said Cobbins on the stand, describing an exchange with Channon Christian.
Then the verdict came. He was found guilty on all but five counts, but received the life sentence, not the death penalty. The families were let down.
“What do you got to do to earn the death penalty in this state?” asked Gary Christian, Channon Christian’s father, after the trial.
Mid-October 2009: Lemaricus Davidson’s trial begins and much of the testimony had been heard before. However, the defense was using its cross-examinations to raise questions about the victims, with talk of Adderall to cram for tests and marijuana use. Chris Newsom’s friend Josh Anderson spoke about their marijuana use.
“He’s not the one on trial. Those kids were totally, completely innocent,” said his mother Mary Newsom.
After a week of testimony and eight hours of deliberations, Davidson was found guilty of first degree felony murder of both Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. During the sentencing phase, the victims’ families told the jury of their loss.
“My life will never be the same because of a senseless crime by people who have no regard for life,” said Mary Newsom.
Davidson was sentenced to death and currently sits on Tennessee’s death row.
December 2009: George Thomas went on trial and a Chattanooga jury was brought in to hear the case. Prosecutors admitted they didn’t have much physical evidence to tie him to the murders, but Thomas was there and they argued he was responsible, showing the jury just how tiny the house was.
The defense argued it was reprehensible for Thomas not to help the victims, but not criminal. The jury convicted Thomas on every single charge from kidnapping to rape and handed him a sentence of life without parole.
May 2010: Vanessa Coleman, the last to go to trial, with another out-of-town jury, this time from Nashville. Coleman’s attorney at first said his client would take the stand, but that never happened. The jury returned not guilty verdicts on the charges related to Chris Newsom’s rape and murder and guilty verdicts on lesser charges for facilitating the rape and murder of Channon Christian.
Retrials: Reliving the heinous crimes again
Thomas and Coleman both received retrials following their original trial and convictions due to Judge Richard Baumgartner overseeing those cases.
Court watchers first got a clue that something was wrong at the end of the Vanessa Coleman trial. The judge was slurring his words and sounding sleepy as he led the jury through the charges.
March 10, 2011: Baumgartner pleaded guilty to state charges of official misconduct and admitted his addiction to prescription painkillers.
Lawyers for all four suspects requested retrials, only two, Thomas and Coleman, received them.
The jury was brought in from Jackson for the trial that began on November 13, 2012. The testimony revisited familiar yet still shocking facts. The prosecution said Coleman was left alone with Channon Christian when the others left to get rid of Chris Newsom.
“All the stuff that she knew. She had the opportunity to get herself out of the house. She had the opportunity to save Miss Christian,” said prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald.
The defense tried to paint Coleman as a victim, a young woman who was too scared to leave. Her attorney said the prosecution couldn’t prove what Coleman’s role was.
“The government, with all its resources, has not put on not one witness to swear under oath what happened at Chipman Street. Not one witness took this witness stand to tell you what happened that day,” said defense attorney Ted Lavit.
After nine hours of deliberations, the jury found her guilty on 13 of the 17 counts. The most serious was facilitating the rape and murder of Channon Christian. She was found not guilty on the one count relating to Chris Newsom.
“Chris died protecting my daughter that night. She got enough justice for them both today,” said Channon Christian’s mother Deena Christian after the verdict was read.
“She deserves to spend the rest of her life in jail,” said Channon’s father Gary Christian.
Coleman’s sentence had been knocked down from 53 to 35 years and she only had to serve 30 percent before becoming eligible for parole, with time served and good behavior. In December 2014, she got her parole hearing, but it was denied.
May 2013: Thomas’ retrial, again with an out-of-town jury. Again prosecutors walked through the timeline – the missing couple, the tiny house where you couldn’t miss what was going on, and the gruesome discovery.
Thomas sat stoic as his attorneys continued to point out the lack of physical evidence linking him to the crimes. His only reaction was to shake his head in disagreement with the verdict: guilty on 38 counts.
“If I could sit in there and hear guilty over and over and over, I might get a little bit of sleep,” said Gary Christian.
The judge would later give Thomas back to back life sentences, plus 25 years, meaning he would have to live to the age of 147 before he would be eligible for parole.