Former WATE journalists reflect on emotional impact of Christian-Newsom murders

Local News

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – It was 10 years ago this week that WATE 6 On Your Side crews started relaying the gruesome details of the kidnappings, rapes and murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

While reliving all of the graphic details is difficult, the families don’t want their children’s story to fade and they say they are still fighting for justice. As journalists, WATE crews have gotten to know the details of the case and the families quite well.

“I think reporters begin to develop a wall where they cut off the emotion of what they are looking at. In this case, I think that wall collapsed for me because it was so vivid and so horrific what happened to these young people. I took it home with me,” said former WATE anchor Gene Patterson.

Patterson was at the forefront of our coverage. In his three decades of reporting in Knoxville, and after hundreds of hours in the courtroom, this was one assignment he said he couldn’t leave at work.Previous story: 10 years since Christian-Newsom murders in Knoxville

“It just seems you had two young people with everything to look forward to in life and a group of people who were just looking for trouble. They were out looking to carjack a car, but they stole two people in the process,” he said.

Patterson worked alongside reporter and anchor Jill McNeal who followed up with the families and wrapped up testimony almost every evening. She said while it was important to keep our coverage impartial, you couldn’t help but have empathy for the families.

“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,” McNeal said.

Attorney Greg Isaacs provided legal analysis of the trials. He said one of the most significant things about this crime was just how heinous it was. Even he walked out of the courtroom after just a few of the crime scene photographs were shown.

Timeline:Christian-Newsom murder trials

“Then the injuries and the extent of the torture and how the victims appeared started permeating out. Then you saw veteran prosecutors who were impacted. They couldn’t talk about it,” Isaacs said.

Another huge aspect of the case was the fall of Judge Richard Baumgartner following his admission of drug abuse and official misconduct. Our crews started noticing something wasn’t right in court.

“I noticed something weird going on with him in the Coleman trial. He was dozing off. When he would talk, he was slurring. I remember asking his admin what’s going on with Richard, and she shook her head and acted mad. So I knew something was going on,” said Patterson.

“It was just upsetting to think because of his actions, the families had to go through more trials and retrials, pain upon pain,” said McNeal. “I get a little angry when I think about his actions.”

Anger and sadness are the main emotions when they think back at the case that kept taking twists and turns, each one more unthinkable than the one before.

“I thought to myself how can you describe this emotionally? And I tell you I cried out on the deck thinking about it. I felt awful for the families and for all of us. This was a crime that just doesn’t need to happen,” said Patterson.

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