Five involved in slayings of young Knoxville couple

People convicted in the Christian-Newsom murders: Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Vanessa Coleman, Letalvis Cobbins and Eric Boyd / Source: WVLT News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- A cold night in January 2007 ended in tragedy for a young Knoxville couple and their families.

A group of five people were accused of being involved in the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

Lemaricus Davidson

Known as the "ringleader" of the killings, Davidson was found guilty on all the charges against him in the case. On the day he was sentenced, October 28, 2009, the jury reviewed police interrogation video of him. He had been interrogated by police on January 11, 2007 after his arrest. An investigator with the Knoxville Police Department said Davidson told him during questioning, "Selling dope, that's all I do, sell dope. I don't kill people though."

Throughout the questioning, investigators said Davidson's story changed, and he at first denied any knowledge of what happened to Christian and Newsom. "I ain't never see the girl in my life or the dude," Davidson said. "I had never seen them before in my life." However, investigators later said that he claimed two other suspects in the case, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas, carjacked the couple and brought them back to his home on Chipman Street.

"They came to the house. They already had the car and everything...They had both of them in the backseat tied up...I'm telling them, 'man, ya'll stupid'," Davidson said at the time.

Davidson claimed Christian grabbed his arm and said, "I don't want to die."

Davidson's defense argued that the couple wasn't carjacked, but, instead, went to the Chipman Street house of their own volition to buy drugs.

The jury didn't believe his story, however, and found him guilty on all counts. Davidson was sentenced to death. In 2016, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld two death sentences against him.

Davidson was denied a new trial in 2019 and remains on death row in Tennessee.

Letalvis Cobbins

Cobbins was the second suspect to be sentenced in the Christian-Newsom case. He is also the half brother of Lemaricus Davidson. During the time of the murders, he had driven from Kentucky for a visit.

In 2009, WVLT News spoke to his family. His sister, Letressica Davidson, said "He's not a killer, he's not a killer."

However, Cobbins' cousin, Theresa Hullum said, "He has a quick temper." Letressica told WVLT News that Cobbins was afraid of his brother. "He [Cobbins] wanted, I don't want to say--be like him [Lemaricus], but he didn't want [him to] think he was a coward or punk," she said.

Letressica also said that Cobbins' mother would not help him get a lawyer after the killings due to their savage nature. "She didn't want to get herself involved in it and not really know what happened."

Cobbins' lawyers characterized him as the product of an alcoholic, abusive father, and a drug-addicted mother who used prostitution to support her habit.

In August 2009, the jury found Cobbins guilty on 33 counts against him in the murder of Christian and Newsom. He was sentenced to life without parole. The family of the victims weren't happy.

"The jury didn't do their job. They didn't render the verdict they should (have)," said Hugh Newsom, father of Christopher Newsom. "One consolation is he will not be on the street again."

George Thomas

Thomas was the third defendant to stand trial for the murders of Christian and Newsom and was friends with Cobbins. In the winter of 2009, a Hamilton County jury heard the tapes of his police interrogation.

In his initial statement, Thomas said he knew a carjacking would happen, but didn't know anyone would be kidnapped. He admitted to seeing Christian and Newsom at the Chipman Street house. Thomas said Eric Boyd, another suspect, left with Newsom and Christian was taken to Davidson's bedroom. He claimed that Boyd came back without Newsom 30 minutes later. Thomas added that he left along with Cobbins and Vanessa Coleman, Cobbins' girlfriend and suspect in the case, but returned on Sunday and didn't know what happened to Channon.

But it's what Thomas reportedly said after the tapes stopped rolling that helped prove Thomas was guilty in the minds of the prosecution.

In 2009, Knoxville Police Detective Nevil Norman testified that after the tapes stopped rolling he asked Thomas, "Don't you wished you'd have called someone?"

Norman testified that Thomas turned to him during the interrogation said said, "F*** that white girl. She didn't mean anything to me. You cops come into our neighborhoods and kill us, so why I should get involved."

Norman claimed Thomas said that, but he didn't write it down in his notes until 17 months later. The defense criticized the investigator and questioned the credibility of his statement, but Norman testified he was confident on what he heard. The defense argued that Thomas was at the house on Chipman Street, but didn't pay attention to what happened to the couple.

While Thomas argued the crimes were none of his business, the jury disagreed. He was found guilty on 38 counts in the deaths of Christian and Newsom, including more than a dozen counts of felony murder and two counts of premeditated murder.

Thomas was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In 2012, however, Thomas was granted a retrial due to the judge in his original case, Richard Baumgartner, pleading guilty to drug abuse. His retrial started in May 2013. The defense wasted no time reminding everyone no evidence had been presented connecting him to the car or the crime scene.

In June 2013, Thomas was sentenced to two life sentences plus 25 years.

Vanessa Coleman

Another suspect in the murders, and the only woman, was Vanessa Coleman. She was Cobbins' girlfriend and had traveled with him to Knoxville to Davidson's home. When Coleman was sentenced in May 2010, she chose not to make a statement to the court or the victims' families.

Coleman's father spoke to WVLT News in 2010 in an exclusive interview a month after she was sentenced.

He said he knew that most people believed she was guilty, but said he would continue to support her.

In 2010, the jury found her guilty on all the charges in connection to Christian's death, but not guilty in connection to Newsom's. Judge Baumgartner sentenced her to 53 years in prison.

However, much like Thomas, Coleman was granted a retrial after the discovery of Baumgartner's drug abuse in 2011.

In 2012, a jury convicted Coleman on 13 of 17 counts in the murder of Christian. Like in her first trial, she was found not guilty for crimes connected to Newsom. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.

She was up for parole in 2014, but was denied. She will have a chance at parole again in December 2020.

Eric Boyd

Eric Boyd was the first person involved in the case to be sentenced. Boyd was sentenced on federal charges as being guilty of being an accessory after the fact. He was sentenced for helping Davidson escape and hiding him for days. In his closing argument, U.S. Attorney Tracy Stone pointed at Boyd and said, "In the whole wide world, one person was willing to help Lemaricus Davidson, and he's sitting right there."

Before he was sentenced, his family spoke with WVLT News, claiming Boyd had been there at the wrong time and didn't really know the other suspects. "He didn't actually kill nobody. He's just there basically at the wrong time. He didn't know these guys," Anthony Boyd, Eric's brother, said.

Anthony Boyd said Eric only knew them from basketball, but Eric admitted on tape that he had smoked marijuana with Davidson before.

Boyd was sentenced to 18 years for the federal crimes in 2008, but that wasn't the end to his case.

On April 4, 2018, Boyd was indicted on first degree felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape charges in connection to the deaths of Christian and Newsom.

His new trial is set to begin on Aug. 5, 2019.

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