Coleman Gets 53 Years; Judge Rejects Innocent Defense

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, July 30, 2010

A Knox County judge on Friday rejected the notion that the lone female suspect in a January 2007 torture slaying was a young innocent under the domination of brutal killers.

Instead, Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner deemed Vanessa Coleman, 22, a street-savvy woman in firm command of her actions and callously indifferent to the consequences.

“There’s no question she was young,” Baumgartner said of a then-18-year-old Coleman. “But Ms. Coleman was not your typical 18-year-old who just graduated from high school. . . . This was a street-smart young lady. She made the decision to have a relationship with Mr. (Letalvis) Cobbins. She’s the one who made the decision to come down to Tennessee. She’s the one who made the decision to stay here.”

With that, Baumgartner turned aside Coleman’s bid for leniency and ordered her to serve 53 years in prison. She will be eligible for parole after serving roughly a third of that term, but the families of victims Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, vowed Friday to fight against any early release for the Kentucky native.

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Baumgartner told Coleman that she got all the leniency she was going to get from the Davidson County jury that in May acquitted her of any role in the crimes against Newsom and refused to assign her the same level of culpability for the crimes against Christian as that of her three male co-defendants. Instead, the panel convicted her of lesser charges as a “facilitator.”

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{snip} Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price countered that testimony showed Coleman knew her boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins; his brother, Lemaricus Davidson; and Cobbins’ pal, George Thomas, left Davidson’s Chipman Street house on the night of the couple’s abduction with plans to pull off a heist of some sort.

“She was there and (already) saw the violence (ringleader) Lemaricus Davidson was capable of,” Price said. “She stayed. She had plenty of opportunity to get away and stop this crime. She didn’t.”

Davidson has been sentenced to death for his role as ringleader. Cobbins and Thomas are serving life without possibility of parole. A fifth suspect, Eric Boyd, has never been charged in the killings but is spending 18 years in federal prison as an accessory to the carjacking.

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Because Coleman was cleared in Newsom’s death, his parents, Mary and Hugh Newsom, were not allowed to speak at Friday’s hearing.

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[Channon Christian’s mother], however, took direct aim at Coleman, reading entries Coleman made in a journal in which she characterized her time in Knoxville during the crime spree as “an adventure.”

“I guess you wanted souvenirs from your adventure,” Deena Christian said, referring to her daughter’s belongings found in Coleman’s possession. “That’s sick.”

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