Judge Orders Prosecutors to Be Specific

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville Sentinel, June 26, 2008

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In a straightforward case, Judge Richard Baumgartner’s directive might pose little or no problem for prosecutors and might not even be a concern for the defense. But, as the judge noted at a hearing Wednesday, the carjacking-turned-torture-slaying of a young Knox County couple is anything but simple.

“This is a 46-count indictment,” Baumgartner said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”

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Thanks to a successful speedy-trial motion already decided, [George] Thomas will be the first of four defendants to stand trial in the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23.

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Thomas, along with co-defendants Letalvis Cobbins and Lemaricus Davidson, is charged with committing every crime prosecutors contend was carried out on the couple. Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, is not charged in the carjacking but is accused in the kidnapping and rapes.

None of the four is in reality accused of 46 different crimes. Instead, the indictment offers various legal theories of the core crimes, which are first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery, kidnapping, rape and theft. It is a common prosecutorial practice.

But Baumgartner opined Wednesday that Thomas’ defenders cannot prepare to defend him against a litany of theories and instead deserve firm facts on exactly what prosecutors allege Thomas did.

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Wednesday’s hearing came after a successful defense push to put Thomas at the head of the trial list. The grab for his Aug. 11 trial date was a tactical move by his defenders designed to seize upon a key weakness in what, on paper at least, appears to be a strong case for the prosecution—the lack of any forensic proof of Thomas’ role.

Prosecutors Leland Price and Takisha Fitzgerald allegedly have DNA testing linking brothers Cobbins and Davidson to the rapes and a statement from Coleman that allegedly puts her at the Chipman Street house while Newsom and Christian were being tortured and slain.

Fitzgerald revealed, however, that the prosecution also has unearthed telephone calls Thomas made while behind bars that allegedly incriminate him. She did not detail the contents.

[Editor’s Note: Other AR stories on the Knoxville Horror can be read here.]

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