Coleman guilty again in murder
From Wire Reports
KNOXVILLE — A jury has convicted a Kentucky woman of facilitation in the rape and murder of a University of Tennessee student in 2007.
The jury from Jackson on Tuesday found Vanessa Coleman of Lebanon, Ky., guilty on 13 of 17 charges in the death of 21-year-old Channon Christian.
Coleman was previously convicted in 2010 of facilitation in Christian’s death, but a retrial was ordered for her and three other defendants after the trial judge acknowledged drug use during her trial.
In her first trial, Coleman was acquitted of any crimes committed against Christian’s boyfriend, 23-year-old Christopher Newsom, who was raped and shot and his body set on fire.
The jury reached a verdict after considering the case for several hours behind closed doors. They began deliberations Monday afternoon following closing arguments by defense attorney Ted Lavit and Knox County prosecutors TaKisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price.
Lavit argued that all prosecutors have shown in the weeklong retrial is that Coleman was present inside the Chipman Street house where Christian, 21, suffocated inside a trash can.
“Mere presence is not enough to convict in any court in America,” Lavit said in closing arguments Monday in Knox County Criminal Court. “Neither should you convict on guilt by association.”
There is no doubt Coleman was a witness to at least some of the atrocities committed against Christian. She admitted as much herself in various statements to authorities in the days following the January 2007 torture-slayings of Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald argued Monday that Coleman held Christian’s life in her hands when the trio of male suspects — boyfriend Letalvis Cobbins, his brother, Lemaricus Davidson, and Cobbins’ friend, George Thomas — left her alone with Christian to go kill Newsom, who was raped, shot execution-style and his body set afire alongside nearby railroad tracks.
“When she’s left alone with Ms. Coleman, think about what Channon must have been thinking,” Fitzgerald told jurors Monday. “What relief that she’s going to be set free.”
Instead, Fitzgerald argued, Coleman kept guard over Christian until the men returned — men who would repeatedly rape Christian, tearing a piece of skin in her mouth and causing blood to pool in her vaginal area.
“Her screams had to be knocking off the walls of that house,” prosecutor Price argued. “You don’t think (Coleman) knew?”
But Lavit insisted Coleman was a scared 18-year-old girl thrust into a nightmare of her own when the men returned to the house with their captives and essentially took Coleman hostage as well, threatening her life when she tried to intervene.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what assistance did she give that was substantial in any way?” Lavit asked. “What substantial assistance did she give in committing these crimes?”
ORIGINAL 53-YEAR SENTENCE
Coleman was tried in May 2010 as a principal player in the crimes committed against both Christian and Newsom. She was acquitted of any role in the crimes against Newsom and deemed a facilitator only in the crimes against Christian. She was sentenced to 53 years.
But then a pill-acquiring scandal broke out involving the judge who presided over that trial, and Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ordered up a new trial.
The state did not challenge the order, since the judge at issue — Richard Baumgartner — admitted taking Xanax, a sedative, during Coleman’s original trial and was captured on camera nearly incoherent when the verdict was announced.
The state is challenging retrial orders for the three male defendants.
A new judge is set to decide next month whether Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas should be retried as a result of Baumgartner’s misconduct.
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com