By Jamie Satterfield
In one of Knoxville’s most horrific crimes, Channon Christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, were carjacked, kidnapped, raped and slain in January 2007. Five suspects were identified. One was tried federally as an accessory. Four others were tried in Knox County Criminal Court.
Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
A drug scandal involving the judge in those state court proceedings would upend the convictions against two of those suspects. New trials were held, the most recent of which occurred last week.
Through it all, details of the horrors this young couple suffered have eked out. But with each suspect pointing the finger of blame at the other and jurors limited by law in what they are allowed to know, the real story of what happened when the couple were taken hostage and ultimately slain has proved just as elusive as the court cases convoluted.
The News Sentinel has covered this case since its beginning. With the aid of interviews, trial coverage and transcripts of each defendant’s statement to authorities, the newspaper can now offer up a snapshot of not only what happened to these two innocents but exactly who did what to them.
The house at 2316 Chipman St. linked to the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
Setting the stage
Chipman Street resident Lemaricus Davidson was broke and angry. His girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, had left him. He had no car and no way to earn money.
“Selling dope, that’s what I do,” Davidson would later tell law enforcement.
Law enforcers knew, however, that Davidson was not simply a drug dealer. He was on parole for carjacking and, in the days leading up to the abduction of Christian and Newsom, was suspected in a series of robberies.
In the days before the couple’s abduction, Davidson’s brother Letalvis Cobbins came to Knoxville from Kentucky to stay with him.
He brought along friend George Thomas and girlfriend Vanessa Coleman.
None of the three had jobs, money or vehicles. Cobbins and Thomas were homeless. Coleman had a salt-of-the-earth family to turn to for help but chose not to.
Davidson grew increasingly angry over what he viewed as the freeloading of his brother and his guests. He turned that anger on Sutton. She left him on Jan. 5, 2007.
A day later, Davidson had concocted a plan to solve all his woes. He, with help from Cobbins and a buddy, Eric Boyd, would carjack someone. Cobbins insisted that he wasn’t happy with the idea.
“Me and my brother got to arguing because he said he was going to do some crazy shit,” Cobbins said in an interview with law enforcement. “He like, man, I’m fixing to go carjack somebody, man, try and get me some money.”
Savaging the victims
Christian and Newsom disappeared Jan. 6, 2007, from the Washington Ridge apartment complex where Christian’s best friend lived.
Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom
Hours later, Newsom’s body was found alongside railroad tracks near Chipman Street in East Knoxville. He had been raped with an object and then shot three times. The final shot was delivered execution style.
He had been gagged with a sock stuffed in his mouth. His ankles were bound with his own belt. His hands were secured behind his back. His face was wrapped in a bandanna. His head was covered with a sweatshirt tied around his neck with shoestrings.
Forensic evidence showed that he had been raped in the final hours of his life. He was forced to walk barefoot to the railroad tracks that ran parallel to Chipman Street and shot in the neck and back. As Newsom lay paralyzed on the ground, the muzzle of a .22-caliber gun was placed against his covered head and fired. His body would later be wrapped up in a comforter, doused in gasoline and set afire.
Christian, meanwhile, was tied up inside the Chipman Street house of Davidson, a stranger to her. She was repeatedly raped orally, vaginally and rectally. At some point, she was savagely attacked in her genital region, either kicked or beaten with an object.
She suffered two blows to the head and was dragged into the carpeted living room of Davidson’s Chipman Street home. Bleach was sprayed down her throat, an apparent effort to destroy DNA evidence.
She was hogtied with strips of fabric from a bedding set. Still alive, her body was encased in black garbage bags and her head wrapped in a white plastic grocery bag. Christian was then stuffed inside a trash can and left to die, slowly suffocating.
Suspect Boyd has long denied any role in the couple’s abduction. With no forensic proof tying him to the crimes, authorities were left to prosecute him for hiding out Davidson after the slayings. He is serving an 18-year federal prison sentence as a result.
But his statement to authorities provides striking details of the carjacking — details he insisted came from Davidson, not his own memory.
Christian was angry with Newsom because he had tarried in picking her up for the birthday party of a friend. As she sat in the front seat of her Toyota 4-Runner parked outside, Newsom sought to set things right, hugging and kissing her as he stood just outside the driver’s side door.
The couple never saw Boyd cruise into the parking lot at Washington Ridge with passengers Davidson and Cobbins. An armed Boyd and Davidson jumped from the car, leaving Cobbins behind. At that point, the pair intended only to rob Christian and Newsom of the SUV. But as they approached the couple, guns drawn, headlights from another vehicle spooked them. They pushed the couple into the SUV.
Testimony has shown that Christian and Newsom were bound in the SUV with whatever cords the assailants could find. Newsom was forced facedown in the vehicle. A bound Christian was dumped onto his back.
With Davidson behind the wheel of Christian’s SUV and Cobbins trailing behind in a car Boyd had borrowed from his cousin, the crew headed back to Davidson’s Chipman Street home.
There was no doubt then that the couple would die.
“Two white people, white kids, this shit fixing to get crazy, man, you know what I mean?” Cobbins said.
Davidson and his cohorts are black, the victims white. Racial differences have never been suggested as a motivator for what authorities view as a random carjacking.
Back at Davidson’s Chipman Street house with their bound and blindfolded victims in tow, an argument broke out among Davidson, Boyd, Cobbins, Thomas and Coleman. Thomas and Davidson barely knew each other and neither liked the other.
“Lemaricus told (Thomas) that he was gonna need him to do something so he could trust him,” Coleman told law enforcers.
The suspects admit that they curried Christian’s cooperation by promising her she would be let go if she went along with their demands. She even called home — at gunpoint — to create a false alibi to buy the suspects time in their murderous plans.
None of the suspects concede involvement in Newsom’s death. But trial testimony, statements and forensic evidence suggest that Davidson, Cobbins, Boyd and Thomas forced Newsom into the rear cargo compartment of the SUV, leaving Coleman behind with Christian.
It’s not clear if Newsom was raped before leaving Chipman Street. Boyd, who had male pornography cached on his phone, has long been suspected but never charged with raping Newsom.
Forensic proof and suspect statements indicate that Davidson forced Thomas to fire the first shot at Newsom, striking him in the neck. As he fell forward, another shot struck him in the back and then Davidson delivered the kill shot to his head.
Once back at Chipman Street, Boyd left. Davidson and Thomas stripped off their bloody clothes to be washed. At some point, the pair gathered up a comforter and a gas can and left, presumably to burn Newsom’s body.
Meanwhile, Cobbins went into his brother’s bedroom, where Christian was tied up.
“I was pissed off,” Coleman said in a statement.
Cobbins would later tell a jury that he promised Christian she would go free if she agreed to oral sex. Forensic proof showed that Christian was orally raped with such force a membrane in her mouth severed.
DNA evidence shows that Davidson raped Christian both vaginally and rectally.
But it is Coleman who authorities suspect delivered brutal blows to Christian’s vaginal region, the force of which caused a massive pooling of blood.
At some point, Christian was dragged into the living room, bleach sprayed in her throat.
“She looked terrified,” Cobbins told law enforcers.
“They made me go in the back bedroom,” Coleman recalled. “When I come back into the kitchen, I seen them tying her up in the fetal position.”
Fingerprint evidence shows that it was Davidson and Cobbins who wrapped Christian in trash bags. She was then stuffed alive inside a trash can in the kitchen of the Chipman Street house.
With Thomas convicted for a second time and a jury delivering up a sentence of life with the possibility of parole, the case finally seems over, save a few rote hearings and appeals.
But Christian’s father, Gary Christian, said that his fight is not over.
“The business at hand is done,” he said of the trials. “The work has just changed. We’ve got some laws that will go up to get some things changed in this horrible excuse for a justice system. It’s all for the criminals and nothing for the victims.”
http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2013/may/1 ... -in-focus/