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Judge grants new trials in the Channon Christian, Chris Newsom murders

8:10 PM, Dec 1, 2011   |    comments
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Video: Christian-Newsom murder defendants to get new trials

Video: 4 pm update: Judge grants new trials for Christian-Newsom defendants

Video: Familes react to retrials in Christian-Newsom murder case

  • Channon Christian, Christopher Newsom
  • Deena Castleman
  • Former Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner
  • Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, George Thomas, Vanessa Coleman
    
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  • Information Judge Blackwood used to make his decision
  • The four defendants -- Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman -- have all been sent back to prison, where they will stay through the new trials.

    Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood presented a detailed account of illegal and unethical behavior by former judge Richard Baumgartner to feed a painkiller addiction prior to, during, and after the murder trials.

    Because of the double jeopardy rule, none can be found guilty of any higher crime than their previous convictions. That means only Davidson is again eligible for the death penalty.

    The victims' families are now bracing for the new trials, which could take years.

    "We've wasted four years of our life because of what he did," said Mary Newsom, mother of Chris Newsom, about Baumgartner's behavior.

    The Newsoms, along with the Christians, admitted they were surprised by the details regarding the extent of Baumgartner's prescription drug abuse and the lengths he went to to feed his habit.

    Because of that, the families said that, while they were disappointed in having to face the trials again, they could understand why Judge Blackwood made his decision.

    "I'd have to agree that if (Baumgartner) was doing everything that he did that he was incompetent and that they all deserve a new trial," Mary Newsom said. "I hate to say that, but it's true."

    Meanwhile, both Hugh Newsom and Gary Christian pointed out that they are upset at the conditions in which the prisoners live. Both say they have visited one of the state's maximum security prisons and feel that that the prisoners there are treated much better than they should be.

    Deena Christian said she felt it was unfair that the inmates get "free" health care and are even paid in some cases while the families must take time off from work and often lose pay to attend the trials and hearings.

    "I don't really want to have to go through it again, but we knew when this happened it would be a lifelong commitment, so as long as something has to be done, we'll be here to defend Channon," Deena Christian said.

    Letalvis Cobbins though complained to the judge about his treatment, saying, each time he leaves prison, he is mistreated, calling it "dehumanizing."

    Judge Blackwood cut off Cobbins' complaints and ordered him out of the courtroom.

    Previous story

    Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has granted the motions for new trials for all four of the defendants convicted in the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

    The judge announced his decision just after 1 p.m. Thursday after a lengthy explanation involving a projector. Click here to see the information Judge Blackwood used to make his decision. 

    The trials of the four defendants were presided over by former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who was removed from the bench after admitting he had an addiction to prescription painkillers.

    The file of the TBI investigation, which had been sealed from public view up until Thursday, outlined evidence that Baumgartner was likely impaired while presiding over those trials. Witnesses in that investigation told of years of prescription drug abuse by the former judge, who reportedly doctor-shopped and associated with at least two convicted criminals in order to get the painkillers.

    The evidence included Baumgartner's abuse of hydrocodone, oxycodone, oxycontin, and more. He reportedly obtained much of that medication from Deena Castleman, who was a drug addict herself. Baumgartner apparently visited her in the hospital, where the two did drugs. The report said he also used drugs and had sex with her inside his chambers.

    Judge Blackwood was visibly upset when making his decision but said, while he could not point to a transcript that showed Baumgartner was high during the trials, he said, "Use your common sense."

    He said he felt for the families and all of those who worked so hard on the cases, but he had no choice but to grant the retrials.

    Mary Newsom, the mother of victim Chris Newsom, said she was angry with Baumgartner. Newsom told reporters she felt like four years of her life had been wasted.

    Motions will next be heard in the case January 12th at 9:30 a.m.

    Following the ruling, Letalvis Cobbins stood up to complain of "dehumanizing" treatment in prison, but Judge Blackwood interrupted him and sent him out of the courtroom.

    Previous story

    During Thursday morning hearing about possible new trials for the four defendants in Christian-Newsom case, attorney shocks courtroom by saying former judge had sex with drug addict in chambers.

    Doug Trant, attorney for Lemaricus Davidson, revealed to the court part of what was in the sealed TBI file -- former Judge Richard Baumgartner had sex with a drug addict in his chambers.

    He also reportedly took up to 30 hydrocodone pills per day.

    Previous story:

    All four defendants -- Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman -- are in the courtroom.

    Their attorneys are making their arguments, one by one, in front of Jon Kerry Blackwood.

    They are relying, at least partly, on the evidence contained in a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file on former Judge Richard Baumgartner. The file has been kept secret from the public but contains information about his admitted addiction to prescription pain pills.

    Previous story:

    Thursday, a Knox County judge is expected to decide whether to grant new trials for the four people convicted in connection with the deaths of a Knox County couple.

    Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered in January 2007. Former Judge Richard Baumgartner presided over the trials for the suspects in the case.

    However, Baumgartner was disbarred in October after admitting to past drug abuse. Defense attorneys are hoping Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood will agree their clients deserve new trials. 

    Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas, and Vanessa Coleman were all convicted in their deaths.  Davidson received the death penalty. Cobbins and Thomas were sentenced to life in prison. Coleman received 53 years behind bars.

    A hearing is set for 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. 

    10News will have a crew at the scene and will bring you any new developments.

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