Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel, August 25, 2009
Jurors this morning convicted Letalvis Cobbins of first-degree murder in the torture-slaying of Knox County couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
The verdicts, after being reviewed by Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, were announced before a packed courtroom.
Jurors on Wednesday will shift into a penalty phase in which they will consider evidence about whether Cobbins, 26, of Kentucky, should be executed for the January 2007 kidnapping and murders.
The jury concluded that Cobbins had responsibility in all the crimes committed against Christian, however, the same panel acquitted Cobbins of charges involving the rape of Newsom.
Those acquittals don’t mean much, however, since jurors found him guilty of the first-degree murder of Christian, 21, and Newsom, 23.
Surprisingly, just before the verdicts were announced, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office cleared a bench in the courtroom and escorted some half-dozen women and a baby into the courtroom to fill that bench.
They wept as the verdict was announced, and Cobbins repeatedly looked in their direction. However, it’s still not clear what their relationship to Cobbins is as deputies quickly hustled them out of the courtroom and building before the jury had even left.
Cobbins was dry-eyed as the verdicts were read to a silent courtroom.
Cobbins has admitted raping Christian inside the house, although he testified Saturday that she offered him the oral sex if he could help ensure her freedom. Christian and Newsom did not know Cobbins, Davidson, 28, or their co-defendants, George Thomas, 26, and Vanessa Coleman, 21, who await trial.
In the death-penalty phase Wednesday, prosecutors Fitzgerald and Price will try to show Cobbins’ crimes are so heinous he deserves death, while defense attorneys Green and Parton will try to counter with mitigating facts.