As the words “not guilty” reverberated against the walls of a Knox County courtroom Thursday, the faces of those gathered told the tale behind the otherwise silent reaction.
Slaying victim Christopher Newsom’s loved ones looked on with shocked grief; Channon Christian’s family with disgust; and suspect Vanessa Coleman’s parents with bittersweet disappointment.
Coleman simply grinned as a panel of Davidson County residents declared her legally blameless in the murder and related crimes committed against Newsom. The same jury deemed her a legal understudy to the principal actors in the same offenses committed against Christian.
This nine-woman, three-man jury spent nearly a dozen hours deliberating and another half hour reciting their findings. There were 32 counts, ranging from first-degree murder to theft, and more than 300 choices within those primary charges.
On every possible crime involving Newsom, the panel deemed Coleman not guilty. On every count directly involving Christian, the panel opted for the lesser crime of facilitation.
The verdicts show the group rejected the prosecution’s theory that Coleman, 22, was either a direct participant in the January 2007 torture slayings or criminally responsible for the trio already convicted as the chief architects of the criminal enterprise–Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas.
Facilitation of Christian’s slaying comes with a possible penalty range of 15 to 25 years. Lesser crimes, including facilitation of her kidnapping and rape, carry penalty ranges of eight to 12 years. It will be up to Baumgartner [Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner] to decide the sentences she should face in each of the facilitation convictions and whether those punishments should be served one after another or at the same time. He set a July 30 sentencing hearing.