While a hushed courtroom waited anxiously Friday afternoon to hear the fate of convicted torture-slaying ringleader Lemaricus Davidson, the man known only as Juror No. 11 put his hand to his forehead and bowed his head.
What no one knew then was why. Had this panel allowed Davidson to escape death for the January 2007 slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23? Or was Juror No. 11 overwhelmed by the gravity of voting to take a man’s life?
The answer came minutes later when the jury foreman rose, verdict form in hand, as Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner asked what penalty the panel had decided to impose for the killings of the Knox County couple.
“The punishment is death,” the foreman answered.
A gasp sounded in the courtroom, but 28-year-old Davidson, by now standing to face the jury, showed no reaction. Juror No. 11 lifted his head.
“Is that your verdict?” the judge would later ask him.
“Yes, sir, it is,” the panel member responded.
The judge has kept jurors’ identities under wraps. But No. 11 drew notice nonetheless from courtroom watchers because he proved prolific in quizzing witnesses during the trial and had, during jury selection, insisted that he was a seeker of the truth regardless of public opinion.
The way the families of Christian and Newsom see it, the unnamed man is proof positive that Knox Countians can cut through the cloud of outrage surrounding this case and fairly judge the suspects accused of kidnapping, raping and torturing their children. While Baumgartner was prepared to go out of county to find a jury for Davidson because of heavy publicity, the defense sought a local panel.
“We should take our hats off to them,” said Newsom’s father, Hugh Newsom. “We ought to give them a round of applause for the verdict they rendered. They were able to look at the evidence and render an unbiased verdict.”
The tension in the courtroom was thick as the jury foreman pronounced death–four times–as punishment for both the felony murder and first-degree murder of Newsom and Christian.
Then, it was the judge’s turn to address Davidson.
Hours after the verdict, Davidson arrived at Riverbend Maximum Security Institution’s Unit 2 in Nashville to begin serving his sentence.
Still to be tried–and facing the threat of death–are co-defendants George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman. Baumgartner, defense attorneys and prosecutors are set next month to travel to Chattanooga to pick a Hamilton County jury to hear Thomas’ case.
Davidson’s half-brother Letalvis Cobbins is serving a sentence of life without parole for his role in the crimes.
“The Christians and Newsoms and all of Knoxville got justice today,” Christian’s mother, Deena Christian, said after Friday’s decision.
The families praised Knoxville Police Department Investigator Todd Childress, Knox County Sheriff Jimmy “J.J.” Jones and his team, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives and prosecutors Leland Price and Takisha Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald told jurors during Friday’s penalty phase that Davidson had had a chance to overcome a troubled childhood when, at age 16, he was taken in, first by a group home mother and second by loving foster parents.
“All he had to do is go to school and do the right thing,” Fitzgerald said in closing arguments. “He got moved into a middle-class lifestyle. He went to a private Christian school. . . . What does he do with that opportunity? He comes to Knoxville to sell dope.”