Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, October 29, 2009
With the sifting of the evidence done and the guilty verdicts rendered, a Knox County jury today must turn to the scales of justice to weigh the fate of convicted torture-slaying ringleader Lemaricus Davidson.
The jury’s job will be three-fold:
* Decide whether aggravating factors, such as the heinousness of the crimes and prior criminal history, have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
* Determine if circumstances such as mental health woes, addictions or childhood abuse exist in Davidson’s background.
* Then, weigh the two.
If the scales tip toward the aggravators, the law commands a death sentence. If the scales tip toward the mitigating circumstances, the jury then must decide between a sentence of life without parole and life, which carries a mandatory 51-year prison term.
This five-woman, seven-man jury spent roughly seven hours over two days deliberating Davidson’s guilt. They deemed him guilty of 35 of 38 counts, ranging from the murder of both Christian and Newsom to kidnapping to robbery. They also found Davidson guilty of multiple counts of raping Christian.
Davidson’s only reprieve–and it was largely irrelevant because of the murder convictions–came in the rape of Newsom. With no DNA evidence to directly link him to a rape that forensic evidence suggested was committed with an object, jurors opted for convictions of the lesser charge of facilitation of aggravated rape.
Davidson is the second of four suspects to be tried. His brother, Letalvis Cobbins, was convicted in August and sentenced to life without parole.
Pending trial are suspects George Thomas, who will face a Hamilton County jury Dec. 1, and Vanessa Coleman, whose case is on hold pending a pre-trial appeal.
A fifth suspect, Eric Boyd, remains uncharged in the killings but is serving an 18-year federal prison term for hiding out Davidson after the slayings.
Davidson demanded a Knox County jury, a move that had proven a mystery until the trial got under way.
It soon became clear that Davidson’s strategy relied upon a panel of jurors who thought they knew the basics of this fatal crime spree until they heard Davidson’s claims. Those claims centered on the notion that Christian and Newsom were not innocent victims but willing visitors to Davidson’s Chipman Street drug house.
But jurors soundly rejected Davidson’s defense.
Judge Richard Baumgartner on Wednesday afternoon sent jurors back to the hotel where they have been sequestered since the trial began more than a week ago to rest up for today’s penalty phase.
Eldridge told the judge he and Trant intend to summon at least eight witnesses to the stand on Davidson’s behalf.
During jury selection, the attorneys quizzed potential jurors about their knowledge of bi-polar disorder. Davidson himself told police he suffered from that mental condition when he was interrogated shortly after his arrest. It is, therefore, likely that a psychiatrist will be called to testify today about Davidson’s mental health.