Hearing Dates Set in Motions for New Trials in Torture Slayings

Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, March 26, 2011

{snip} The backdrop was a hearing in one of those that drew watchers from across the nation and beyond–the January 2007 torture slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. The issue was what happens now that [Judge Richard] Baumgartner [who presided over the Knoxville Horror trials] has confessed to buying and ingesting hundreds of opiate-based painkillers from a felon under probation in his court.

The key question? What impact, if any, will his nearly yearlong illegal drug use have on the cases he handled? If defense attorneys raise concerns about the validity of their clients’ convictions and sentencings, it will be up to state appellate courts to ferret that out in the lion’s share of cases Baumgartner handled from November 2009 to September 2010, the period during which he was procuring pills from a street dealer.

But there remains a handful of cases that are caught in limbo between convictions at trial and required hearings that test the legal validity of those trials before appeals can be launched, and those decisions had remained in Baumgartner’s hands. Among those cases are pending motions for new trials for the four suspects convicted in the slayings of Christian and Newsom.

Leibowitz sought Friday to reassure not only the public but the families of Christian and Newsom that the wheels of justice, temporarily derailed by Baumgartner’s guilty plea earlier this month, are back on the tracks.

{snip}

In order to decide whether convicts Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman received constitutionally sound trials under Baumgartner, Blackwood will have to review thousands of pages of transcripts for not only all four trials, but also a dozen or so motions hearings in the run-ups to those trials, which spanned from August 2009 to May 2010.

He’s already hard at work, he said.

“Over the last several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to read most of (the Cobbins’ trial) transcript,” he said.

Blackwood [Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who has been handling Baumgartner’s docket] made it clear that he would broker no further delay in deciding whether new trials should be granted, setting firm hearing dates and warning defense attorneys that if they intend to use Baumgartner’s legal woes to attack the validity of their clients’ convictions, they should not tarry.

{snip}

He set the following hearing dates in the motions for new trials: Cobbins, June 9; Davidson, Sept. 8; Thomas, Oct. 6; and Coleman, Dec. 1.

{snip}

So far, none of the four defendants in the fatal carjacking has mentioned Baumgartner’s legal woes in court filings, and Leibowitz noted that the former judge’s guilty plea to official misconduct does not automatically call into question the soundness of his legal rulings.

The families of Christian and Newsom said after Friday’s hearing that they are relieved the cases can now move forward.

{snip}

Davidson is on death row. Cobbins and Thomas are serving life terms with no possibility of parole. Coleman, the only one of the four to be convicted of lesser charges of facilitating murder, is serving a 53-year prison term.

{snip}

[Stories related to the Knoxville Horror torture murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom are listed here.]

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  • C

    I KNEW when this case first leaked out (months after it should have) that the vile gang that did this would not be executed for many, many years, and that some would escape from their just punishment. And that ain’t good.

    Consider Sharia. I had a friend who went to the execution grounds outside of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and observed the punishment of a rapist. This was just a few weeks after the crime. The rapist was tied to a pole, and the father of the victim was handed a rifle. He took careful aim, and hit the rapist in the left arm. He slowly reloaded, took careful aim, and hit the right arm. After more careful aiming, he hit the left leg, and then, for the fourth shot, the right leg. By this time, the rapist had finished screaming and fainted. The Saudi army officer presiding over the event took charge and walked over to the slumped body with a pistol and shot him in the temple.

    Think about it: just a few weeks after the crime, the victims were able to go home feeling that justice had been done, and closure could begin. But in our country? When will the parents of Channon and Christopher find closure?