Home > Crime > Christian-Newsom Trial and Vanessa Coleman Faces the Music

Christian-Newsom Trial and Vanessa Coleman Faces the Music


Channon Christian and Chris Newsom

What is now the 4th murder trial in the Christian-Newsom murder case has begun.

Denna and Gary Christian and Hugh and Mary Newsom are stoically sitting in their usual seats behind Leland Price and Takisha Fitzgerald.

Defense attorneys Ted Lavit and Russell Greene flank Vanessa Coleman.

Judge Baumgartner has yet to rule on whether Vanessa’s journal may be moved into evidence.

9:03 Court is in session

Some housekeeping…

Vanessa Colman is brought in. Her hair is just below her shoulders and very much straightened. She’s wearing a long grey blouse with a belt.

Bench conferences are not to be broadcast.

Leland Price says a handwriting analyst for proving the journal in question belongs to Vanessa will be introduced later in the week? Friday? The judge warns him to bring up in opening statements at his own peril.

Jan. 28 statement by Coleman – admissible with possible redactions.

Lavit wants to redact pp. 2, 3, 4.

Defense proposed language on criminal responsibility in final instructions… judge not likely to change – defense. satisfied with that.

Price – one page from journal the Judge wants taken out, but Price wants to enter journal as physical exhibit doesn’t want to take a page out of the original journal, says that page not of major importance.

Baumgartner agrees it is certainly not relevant, but could be.

Price says the page could be shielded with evidence tape, but that could certainly draw attention to it.

Judge says it’s a lot of personal stuff not relevant to trial.

Judge will look at document again (still has not made a decision if it will come in).

Motion in Limine – will it be admitted? (Hard to hear) Not relevant???

Judge will look at it.

Defense says “what they told her, what they said they could do for her, will come into play.”  This would be the ‘immunity’ offer from the Feds.

Baumgartner says he can ask witness on stand about offer of immunity (he doesn’t know if it will be allowed to come in).

Jury will be allowed to ask questions of everybody except the defendant, should she take the stand.

Baumgartner is not ruling on lots of stuff and the attorneys can use it in opening at their own peril!

The Jury comes in and the Judge ID’s them by first name and ascertains where they are seated.

Judge tells the jury:

Evidence comes from witnesses only, not the judge or attorneys.

Wait to the end of trial to make decisions.

Charging Instrument read to the jury, all 46 counts, Coleman pleads not guilty via atty.

Jury sworn in.

Judge addresses the jury about the charges. Mentions that they include alternative theories as to how the crime took place. They are to consider each charge separately. Explains how if found guilty of more than 1 count of murder, court would merge into one count. If and how they merge is up to the court, not up to them.

Same with various counts of rape, vaginal, oral, anal rape are different crimes. Explains there are different ways a rape would occur. Again it would be the court’s decision how to merge.

Takisha Fitzgerald presents the opening statement for the State.

“You can tell a lot about a woman from the contents of her purse.” Show’s picture of Vanesssa Coleman’s purse.

Chris Newsom was dating Channon Christian… she was a college student he was a finish carpenter.

Mentions “Shock” perfume Kara gave to Channon for Christmas. A Big bottle!

Night of Jan. 6, describes the background of the evening. We’ve heard this 3 times before in the previous trials.

No one hears from Channon and Chris until 12:30 pm… Channon calls and tells her father plans have changed.

Mr. Christian thought she was still at friend’s apt. Didn’t know call came from Chipman St and she was being held captive.

Mentions guy in parking lot Xavier Jenkins. He’s the one who testified about spotting the car and the 4-Runner outside the Chipman Street house.

Inside 2316 Chipman St. 4 individuals staying there – Davidson, Cobbins, Coleman and Thomas.

Stacey Lawson – girlfriend of George Thomas – decided to move from Kentucky to Knoxville and move in with Lemaricus, and his girlfriend, Daphne Sutton.

House at 2316 Chipman was less than 900 sq. ft.

Jan. 2, 2007 Davidson pulled a gun out & pointed it at Stacey, who decided to leave.

Fri. Jan. 5 – Davidson, in an argument, puts his hands on Daphne and she leaves.

Davidson’s cell phone is not working because the minutes are out.

Jenkins, parked at the Waste Connection building notices 4 black males in 4-runner outside of the Chipman house.

A neighbor, Mr. Arnold recalled hearing 3 gunshots (pop, pop, pop).

A Mr. Thurnan notices smoke coming from tracks.

Chris Newsom’s body is found, pants removed, legs bound with floral fabric, his socks shoved in his mouth and a sweatshirt wrapped around his head.

He had been raped, suffered gunshot wounds, and was burned.

When Chris is found, everyone is looking for Channon.

Daphne Sutton, Davidson’s girlfriend sees this on news and tries to call Lemaricus, she says she’s coming to the house to get her belongings. Lemaricus asks her to give him 30 minutes.  She thinks he has another girl and comes right over. When she gets there, she’s not allowed in the various rooms… she is given a bag of clothes and leaves.

On inspection she notices the clothes are not her size.  There is a red skirt…she’s not allowed to wear red because Lemaricus in “blue” gang.

Family finds Channon’s 4-runner.

When police find 4-runner, they are able to lift Davidson’s fingerprint.

Based on the fingerprint, police go to his house looking for him and Channon.

Investigators look in garbage can and find Channnon.  Goes through some of the gory details… sperm, trauma to genital region, tied in a fetal position.

LE finds Channon & Chris’s property. Channon’s perfume & orange pencil holder are missing from her purse.

LE wants to find people who were inside of house. Daphne tells them 4 names.

They find Lemaricus on Thursday.

Letalvis Cobbins and the others arrive in Kentucky on the 9th. On the 10th they look at news site on Internet and see they are being sought.

Le arrests Thomas and Cobbins on the 11th. Vanessa brought in for questioning. She says doesn’t know anything so LE let her go.

3:15 Davidson is arrested in Knoxville.

LE search Natosha’s house and finds a purse.  Also find a bottle of perfume & pencil case belonging to Channon.

No weapons found. Searched under bed and everything.

When Coleman is released, she returns to Natosha’s house, goes into the room after collecting some of her stuff.  Then when Natosha and a friend cleaning up, they find Letalvis Cobbins’ gun hidden under a bed.

Coleman is brought before grand jury (interviewed 18th & 19th).  Fitzgerald tells the jury is to listen for the answers to the following questions:

When does Coleman say Eric Boyd came to the Chipman house?

When does she say Channon was killed?

Why does she say she was in 4-runner Sunday?

Ted Lavit presents opening statements for the defense.

We just found out Vanessa will take the stand!

Stacy Lawson, George Thomas’s girlfriend, drove her car on Thursday, December 28 from Lebanon Kentucky to spend New Years and Lavit says she never intended to stay so Davidson sticking a gun in face was not the impetus for her leaving. Davidson did pull a gun on her on Jan. 1…she left on Jan. 2 for a court appearance and to take care of two children.

Claims Vanessa handled a gun in her life.  Has had a gun in her face before and was threatened with guns in the Chipman Street house and she was terrified.

He mentions there was a Federal and State coordination in the investigation.   Says Vanessa had immunity and the State knew about it.

Says Vanessa had a pencil case and perfume and that it was given to her by Davidson – after Channon was brought into the house!  She had no idea where it came from because Davidson had given her presents in the past.

Claims Vanessa never knew anything about the background of Davidson, Cobbins, or Thomas and she was only 18 at the time of the crimes.

Opinion – Lavit is not at all effective in presentation!!!  He hems and haws and appears to lose train of thought and is not organized at all.

Takisha Fitzgerald asked 3 questions at the end of opening statement:

Q1 What happened when Channon was brought into the house?

She was tied and blindfolded.  Vanessa was watching television and was by herself.  She didn’t know what happened when the Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas left, or where they were going.

Lavit claims Vanessa only saw Channon, not Chris.  She had nothing to do with what happened to Chris

Q2 When was Channon killed?

We don’t know the moment of death.  Windows were locked.  Vanessa tried to pack her clothes in a garbage bag and leave.  Cobbins stuck a gun in her face and said if you try that again I’ll kill you.  Vanessa was terrorized.

She saw Davidson strangle Channon.  They then made her leave the room and she didn’t see anything more.

The next day Vanessa was ordered to take Channon’s pulse.  Davidson ordered her to do it and she said she didn’t know how to take a pulse so had no idea whether or not Channon was alive or dead.

Q3 Why did Vanessa ride in the SUV?

She didn’t want to be left alone with Channon and Davidson ordered her to.  After she was ordered to ride in the SUV she was never left alone again.

Lavit presents a chronology of the events all the while focusing on Vanessa’s fear of Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas.

Vanessa told authorities that she arrived in Kentucky a day before she really did and claims that the men repeatedly told her to say that and she now regrets that she lied.

Fitzgerald calls Josh Anderson to the stand.  He is 26 and was a close friend of Chris Newsom – best friends since 6th grade.

On the 26th they were together all day golfing and the both went home, showered, and then got back together.  Chris was taking Channon to dinner so he dropped Josh of at Jamie Hampton’s house where they were having a party.

He expected Chris and Channon to arrive 10:30–11:00 pm.

When 10:30 passed, Josh and others started texting and phoning Chris and Channon, but they got no response.  They were mildly concerned and drove over to where Channon was staying.  Channon’s 4-Runner was gone but Newsom’s truck was there.

They figured maybe Chris and Channon wanted to be alone so the all went to sleep.  The next morning they started calling again and called Channon’s work.  They were told Channon never showed up for work,

By noon they were worried and Kara, Channon’s, best friend, called Channon’s parents.

Early evening Josh brought Chris’s truck back to his parent’s house.  They then met up with Deena, Gary, and Chase Christian and began a grid search for Channon and Chris based on cell phone pings.

They eventually located Channon’s vehicle in a bad part of town and they knew there was no way the vehicle should be there so everybody was pretty upset.

The police arrived and opened the 4 Runner and it was caked in mud and a ripped up cell phone charger and crumpled pack of Newport cigarettes were in the 4-Runner.  Neither Channon nor Chris smoked!

They review exhibits – photo’s and maps that are entered into evidence.

The prosecution is done and Judge Baumgartner calls a lunch break.

Baumgartner just read the riot act for Greene and Lavit for being almost 10 minutes late from lunch.  This is the second admonishment for Lavit.  Baumgartner is not at all happy for their disrespect for the jury and the court!

Greene is cross-examining Josh Anderson.

He basically has Anderson repeat the same information he provided earlier.

For those of you who have been following all of these trials, you have heard the vast majority of the testimony ad nauseum.   Just remember, this is a brand new jury who knows little or nothing of the facts of the case and the whole crime have to be laid out for them so the get the full impact of the horrendous events leading up to Channon and Chris’s murders.

The non-aggressive cross lasted about 10 minutes!

Kara Sowards is called to the stand.  She was Channon best friend for 14 years.

She knew Chris for several years because she dated one of his friend.

Kara had an apartment at Washington Ridge.  Channon had a key to the apartment.  This is the location from which Channon and Chris were carjacked.

She describes Channon being at her apartment and the stripped sweater, jeans, pink shoes, and grey pocketbook she was wearing to go to the party.

Kara left for the party while Channon stayed at the apartment waiting for Chris.

At 10:30pm, Channon and Chris had not shown up at the party so folks started calling and texting, but got no response.  Everyone thought maybe Chris and Channon were fighting and that was why they weren’t getting a response, but they were not worried at that time.

When Kara went back to the apartment, nothing was amiss and nobody was there.

Kara still hadn’t heard from Channon.  She explains how she participated in the search and they finally located Channon’s 4-Runner on Sunday morning.  Window stickers and the rear plate had been removed.

The vehicle had shoes, clothes, and purses in it as well as a bag of clothes for goodwill.

Kara’s story matches Josh Anderson’s story.

We go through photo and map exhibits that Kara identifies.

She also identifies clothing articles and personal items of Channon’s.

Defense passes the witness.

Next up is Xavier Jenkins.  He was sitting in a truck at the Waste Connections building on Chipman Street.

On Saturday, Jan. 6, 2007 he was working 3rd shift from 12:30 to 6am, so into Sunday morning.

He saw the porch light on and the 4-Runner sitting with the headlights on.  Normally a quiet neighborhood at that hour, Jenkins found that odd.

The 4-Runner drove slowly past him and the looked at Jenkins with a ‘mad mug’.  Jenkins is sure there were 4 black men in the truck.  He went so far as to say one of them was wearing a hoodie.  The 4-Runner circled the block and returns around 1am.

Jenkins went in his job and returned around 6:30.  The 4-Runner was there pulled face-in to the Waste Connection lot and Jenkins thought something was wrong and so the checked the truck to see if the could determine if it was a stolen vehicle.  Jenkins saw the decals on the window and the rear plate.

Jenkins identifies maps and photos that are entered as exhibits.

Defense asks 3 questions about distance and direction and Jenkins is released.

Adrien Mathias is called to the stand.

She drove a white Pontiac Sunbird in 2007.  She loaned her car to her cousin, Eric Boyd on Jan. 6th and 7th.  This was the other car that was in from of Chipman.

Later that week she found the car broken down.  She found small caliber bullets on the passenger side in a bag.  She also carried a gas can in her trunk that should not have had gas in it.

Witness passed.

Defense passes.

Ted Arnold called to the stand.  He lives on Chipman and was home the night of Jan 6th.  Around 1:45 am on the 7th he heard 3 pops.  Pop. Pop. Pop.  These are believed to have been the shots fired into Chris’s body.

Defense asks if he heard any screams on the 6th, 7th or 8th.  He says no, he heard no screams.

Roy Thurnan is called.  He saw the smoke rising from the railroad tacks at 7:45 am, but did not investigate, as there were homeless people who used to hang out back there.  He later learned from investigators that it was Chris’s body that was found.

He is shown photos and maps of the area.

Defense passes the witness.

Next up is Jacob Ford.  He was working January 7th, 2007.  He works for the railroad.  They were moving a train at 12:05 and he noticed a burnt piece of something that he didn’t recognize – it appeared to be a log.  The closer he got, he realized it was a body.

12:15 – 12:20 pm he stopped the train and notified dispatch that he believed there was a body by the tracks.  He was told to say there.  Ford got off the train and got close enough to see a naked man that was badly burned.

Ford is struggling emotionally.

His supervisor and law enforcement showed up at the tracks by Cherry Street.

Ford identifies photos for Fitzgerald.

Witness passed.

Defense passes.

Robert Watson called to the stand.

He is a Special Agent in the bomb and arson division of the State Fire Marshall’s office.

Watson was responsible for the workup on the scene.

They speak with all the fire personnel or law enforcement at the scene.

They photograph and map out the fire scene and then send in the canine unit and then they try to reconstruct the scene.

Samples are taken and sent to the crime lab in Nashville for identification.

Watson identifies photos and exhibits for Fitzgerald.

No questions from the defense.

Russ Whitfield, forensic police unit.

Documents, fingerprints, photographs.

He was called to the Newsom arson scene where he collected evidence.  He remembers it was cold and had been rainy.

He is identifying photos that he took of the scene.

He found cloth that was burned in two spots and a dog leash at the railroad tracks.

Whitfield identifies the items he collected.

The defense is asking what condition the items he collected were in.  Russell is asking if the items were recently at the scene or could they have been there a long time.  Whitfield doesn’t cave in on the line of questioning.

Items are moved into evidence.

Price now calls Laura Hodge.  She is a Special Agent with the TBI crime lab.  She specializes in fire debris and gunshot residue and also is an instructor in the field.

She is designated as an expert witness.

She explains the scientific process of analysis and the precautions taken to prevent contamination.

Hodge identifies several pieces of evidence and the reports she prepared.

Her analysis indicates gasoline distillate.  There is a 7-day window before the distillate would degrade.  She received the samples on Jan. 17, but they were collected on Jan 10.

Kim Price is called to the stand.  She works for the Knoxville Police Department investigating crime scenes and evidence collection.  She attended the autopsy of Chris Neewsom on Jan. 8.

She identifies the 3 bullets from Chris Newsom that she took them to the property unit.

She also collected the sheet remnants from Chris’s body from the Medical Examiner as well as the dog leash.

The items are entered as evidence.

Witness passed and defense passes also.

Last witness for the day and we are done for the day.

We had 11 witnesses today, the defense did little cross and there were no questions from the jury.

I wish to express my deepest thanks and gratitude to my dear friend and partner in crime (coverage that is!) who knew I was in NYC for the weekend and would not return till this morning. Ritanita graciously covered the opening statements by the Prosecution!

  1. ritanita
    05/03/2010 at 5:35 pm

    You’re more than welcome!

    I can’t believe that the defense is going to be that Vanessa was a poor little 18-year-old girl held captive in the house by the gun-toting henchmen.

    I hope the prosecution has a chance to flash her mug shot sometime during the hearing.

    When the jury hears her journal entries, I’m betting she is toast with that defense. All they need is tie that journal to Vanessa and I am sure the prosecution handwriting analyst will have no problem doing that.

    Oh, and what frightened captive has a chance to write in her journal while she is being constantly watched?

    It won’t help that the judge said the prosecution could use her sharing marijuana with her co-defendants won’t help her either.

  2. David From TN
    05/03/2010 at 6:43 pm

    A main claim of the defense is that Coleman never saw Chris Newsom at all. Yet, despite this, when cross-examining Chris’ best friend, the defense tried to elicit testimony of pot being found in Newsom’s truck. The defense wanted it both ways. The judge did not allow it.

    We learned why the judge has not ruled on allowing the journal. He said it has to be proved that it was Coleman’s handwriting. A handwriting expert will testify before a ruling is made. The journal was found in Coleman’s purse.

  3. 05/03/2010 at 10:56 pm

    Thanks Donchais, for your coverage of this trial. Ritanita you are a gem!

    How long is this trial expected to last? I’m sorry if you have addressed this question earlier, I don’t recall.

  4. onlyonesheri
    05/04/2010 at 12:42 am

    Has anyone seen the forsenic pics from this crime?

  5. Marica
    05/04/2010 at 5:54 am

    Tried to read the post but just couldn’t make it through. Memories of this happening, still affect me. If I, a person who never knew these people am affected this way, what hell it must be for their families and friends. I am praying for the justice these two young people deserve. That “poor little girl” doesn’t look so innocent. She has a cold hardness in her eye that says otherwise. Those who take should now GIVE. These people took two lives, and they need to be held accountable and give their own lives for what they have taken. Comfort and blessings upon the families and friends of Channon and Chris.

    • donchais
      05/04/2010 at 6:47 am

      Marcia – I agree with you and this has been the most difficult trial I have ever followed.

      Only – The forensic photos are not in the public domain and IMHO never should be. As the parents…I wouldn’t want the public being thrilled, tantalized and taking voyeuristic pleasure from the atrocities inflicted on my children!

      katfish – None of the trials were lengthy – well, the defense doesn’t have much of a case to put on! Takisha Fitzgerald indicated the prosecution shouldbe done by the end of the week if not before. The big difference in this trial is the issue of the ‘journal’. If it’s as bad as many believe it should put the proverbial nail in the coffin!

  6. David From TN
    05/04/2010 at 10:43 am

    The trial is supposed to last about 10 days. They will work on Saturday. Coleman is going to take the stand according to her attorney.

  7. Marica
    05/04/2010 at 7:39 pm

    David, Thnx for the info on Coleman taking the stand. I cannot imagine a jury would be impressed with her responses.

    I have mixed feelings on crime scene photo’s. Of course the jury needs to see these, and after that, I guess, if those actual photo’s were to be made available to an agency who would be able to use these as a means of education… as long as there was nothing to identify the individual…. I believe if this was my child, and someone could use the photo’s to help save lives I would agree to a release.

  8. knoxville girl
    05/07/2010 at 10:45 pm

    they brought the journal in today, she described her time in TN as one big adventure and said she loved her life… she is one sicko.

    her dna was on the bindings used to tie channon up and on channon’s tank top.

    she says she touched channon’s wrist to check her pulse. i think that is a lie she made up to explain why her dna is on those ties – she tied channon up. not because she was forced to or she was scared, but because she was an active willing participant in these crimes. her parents are starting to realize it too after hearing the dna evidence and the journal entries, her dad was hanging his head in shame.

    i hope this jury has the courage to give her what she deserves. no one gave chris and channon the courtesy to worry about their well being no one hemmed and hawed over what their lives were worth, so vanessa should get the same treatment she gave. she deserves no less than the death penalty. all of these pieces of trash totally disregarded the sanctity of chris and channon’s life but suddenly now they want people to care about their lives.

    this case is unreal. go here http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2010/may/07/torture-slaying-trial-day-5-jurors-pepper-federal-/ and watch the video to see pics of the diary pages and hear them being read. these are not diary entries of someone who was a victim or a hostage or scared. she was thrilled by these killings. she is sick.

    we in knoxville are hoping this jury from nashville will do the right thing and return a guilty verdict and sentence the death penalty.

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