Knox DA's office considering appeal of new Christian-Newsom trials

2:08 PM, Dec 4, 2011   |    comments
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Channon Christian, Christopher Newsom

Knox County prosecutors are considering an appeal to Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood's decision to grant new trials to four defendants in the Christian-Newsom case.

"That's not a simple answer," said John Gill, special counsel to District Attorney General Randy Nichols, when asked about the possibility.

Gill said employees within the office have discussed and sought advice from the state attorney general's office. He said the victims' families also will be consulted. Any decision would have to be made within the next 30 days.

The discussions come after Thursday's decision by Judge Blackwood to grant the new trials to Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman.

The four were charged in the deaths Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. The Knox County couple was kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered in January 2007.

Blackwood ruled the trials contained structural errors, citing the contents of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file on former Judge Richard Baumgartner, who has admitted to abusing prescription painkillers and pleaded guilty to official misconduct.

Since Thursday's decision, 10News has reached out to several former jurors for the Davidson trial.

Darryl Avans says he was juror No. 9. 

"I hate the fact that another jury is going to have to go through this, I hate that the families will have to go through this again, but it's a definite lasting memory that I wish I'd never had to have, and now that I've had to have it, and for nothing, I mean, I didn't have to be, none of that jury, obviously, had to be subjected to that because now they get a re-trial," Avans said. "And that's disgusting to think that I had to be subjected to all that, see all that, and then, it's for nothing basically."

Avans said he was haunted by the graphic photos he saw during the trial, and it was a post-trial meeting with Gary Christian that finally helped him push those images to the background.

"I ended up getting to meet Gary Christian and talking with him, and I told him I just didn't know how he could even begin to handle things," he said. "I told him just what I had to see and go through that I was having nightmares and kept seeing those photos over and over in my head, and one of the things that helped me was that he ended up giving me a photo of Channon in a frame that says 'thank you,' and he told me that he wanted me to see that photo when I thought of her instead of thinking of seeing the autopsy photos of her and Chris and to see that photo, and so I put it up in my house to where I would walk back and forth by it, and I tried to focus on that being her and not what I had seen, and that helped me finally to quit seeing, not that if I think about it that I don't see it, but it's just the fact that it keeps me from seeing the bad photos that bothered me."

Avans also said, while he felt there was overwhelming evidence of Davidson's guilt, it did not make the decision to sentence him to death an easy one.

"When it come down to having to actually say that we was going to give him the death penalty, it was a really emotional time," he said. "There wasn't a dry eye in the room. You think about having to give that person that you've been looking at for days the death penalty, and knowing that when you sign your name that, that's it. It was a hard thing to do, and it wasn't hard because of not having the evidence, it was just hard because it was a really emotional, it's not a spur-of-the-moment thing, you've had to sit and think about it."

Through it all, he says he never noticed any problems Baumgartner may have had on the bench, and he's angry his work on the jury seems to have been for nothing.

"I can't see that he did anything wrong, and not to say that if he was taking drugs and that kind of stuff, sure, that's wrong, but did it have an outcome on the trial," he said. "The jury wasn't on drugs, you know, we were the ones that made the decision. All he did was read what we handed him and that said that he was guilty and that we was giving him the death penalty. It didn't say, you read it and you decide for yourself. I mean, we were the ones that decided, not the judge."

But now, it seems a new jury will be making the final decision.

"My thoughts were, first, I went through all of that for nothing, and then, I kinda caught myself and thought, don't think about yourself, those families are gonna have to go through this again, and I just thought to myself, you know, hopefully, hopefully, a new jury will see the things the same way we did and not give him any less than what he deserves," Avans said.

What Davidson deserves, Avans said, is nothing short of life without parole, but the former juror hopes the new jury will return with a death sentence as well.

As for the possibility of plea deals, Gill says that is "highly unlikely."

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