Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, October 20, 2009
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported toxicology results for Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
The defense team for the alleged ringleader in a torture slaying tipped its strategic hand Monday with a startling suggestion–this random attack on a Knox County couple may not have been so random after all.
Lemaricus Davidson’s defense attorney, David Eldridge, alluded to this claim in opening statements, telling jurors they would wind up questioning the state’s version of events “at the beginning” of what long has been viewed as a carjacking gone wrong. He did not elaborate.
But co-counsel Doug Trant later followed up with a question posed to slaying victim Channon Christian’s best friend, Kara Sowards, that offered a bit more clarity.
“Would it surprise you to learn (Christian and boyfriend Christopher Newsom) were seen at the Exxon on Cherry Street (before they were slain)?” Trant asked.
Davidson, 28, is standing trial this week on a slew of charges ranging from kidnapping to rape to murder in the January 2007 slayings of Christian, 21, and Newsom, 23. Prosecutors Leland Price and Takisha Fitzgerald have a mountain of forensic proof, including Davidson’s DNA on Christian’s clothing and body; his fingerprints on the couple’s belongings; and his palm print on a trash bag in which Christian’s body was wrapped and stuffed inside a garbage can in Davidson’s Chipman Street home.
But Eldridge told jurors it wasn’t surprising that Davidson’s prints would be on items in his house because he lived there. He intimated that the “gang from Kentucky”–co-defendants Letalvis Cobbins, who was convicted in August, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman–killed the couple and left behind “all the evidence conveniently to be found in Mr. Davidson’s home.”
“You will have real questions about whether Mr. Davidson was even in the Chipman Street house when (Christian) was killed,” Eldridge told jurors.
Trant later quizzed witnesses about the victims’ alleged drug use. He elicited testimony from Newsom’s friend, Josh Anderson, that Anderson and another friend removed marijuana from Newsom’s truck shortly after Newsom went missing. And Trant questioned Sowards about a marijuana pipe in her apartment–she said it wasn’t hers–and a prescription bottle for hydrocodone belonging to another Christian friend found in Christian’s Toyota 4 Runner. Sowards said the friend probably left it there accidentally.
When prosecutors began asking witnesses who lived in the Chipman Street area if they’d ever seen Christian and Newsom in the neighborhood, all said no. But Trant asked one of those witnesses, “You didn’t go there to buy drugs, did you?”
A toxicology report on Christian showed the presence of a small amount of alcohol in her system. Newsom’s results showed the presence of marijuana and amphetamines.