It has no doubt been an emotional day in court here for the parents of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. They are living through their children's murders again for the sixth time in five years with Vanessa Coleman's retrial.
Deputies escorted Coleman in to court just after 9 a.m. Tuesday. She didn't look at the Christian and Newsom families, who were supported by a dozen or so family and friends. Coleman also didn't look at her parents seated right behind her. Colman's attorney, Ted Lavit, entered her plea of "not guilty on all counts."
Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald and Lavit gave the court opening statements. The state's position is that Coleman "facilitated," or made Channon Christian's murder possible. That is the key difference in this trial compared to the initial trial in 2010 when she was charged with first degree murder. Then, a jury found Coleman guilty of "facilitating" crimes against Christian, those lesser charges are the only charges the state can bring against Coleman at this time.
Lavit told the court there is no evidence that Coleman helped the other suspects commit the murders, and she did not commit any crimes.
Both sides also presented preliminary evidence to the court during opening statements. For example, Fitzgerald described Coleman's connection to the contents of Christian's purse. Prosecutors showed a photo of Coleman's purse with its contents placed on the side, including lotion, perfume, and a wallet that belonged to Channon Christian.
"Where the lotion and perfume were found were a white cloth, a binding, with Miss Christian's blood, knotted and Coleman's DNA near the knot," said Fitzgerald.
Lavit told the jury about Coleman trying to get away from the house on Chimpan Street in East Knoxville, the location where Channon was murdered, after she got Channon Christian some water.
"Cobbins came after her and brought her back at the point of a gun, brought her back to the back bedroom, the south bedroom, threw her up against the wall where her ankle was cut by a nail," said Lavit.
Tuesday afternoon the state called more than a dozen witnesses to the stand, including garbage truck driver, Xavier Jenkins, who said he saw four men, who he told the court he believes to be black, driving a silver Toyota 4-Runner away from the Chipman St. house. That vehicle ended up belonging to Channon Christian.
None of the witnesses who took the stand Tuesday placed Coleman with the other suspects; testimony mostly established events that happened during the weekend in early January 2007 when Christian and Newsom went missing, leading up to when their bodies were found two days later.
Christian and Newsom's friends also took the stand to explain when they last saw the couple, identify their clothing, and talk about searching for them. After that a number of law enforcement experts took the stand. All of them talked about collecting evidence and the investigating the murders. Much of that testimony was pretty technical.
At one point, Coleman's defense attorney took issue with prosecutors questions, accusing them of not focusing on how they allege Coleman "facilitated" Christian's murder.
Throughout the day, Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary, sat next to Christian's parents, Gary and Deena, with a front row seat to proceedings. The Christians said it's as tough being at this trial as it was for the first five.
"How do they let the attorneys sit in there and say she was never alone with the girl when she was? How does the system allow attorneys to sit in there and bald face lie? I don't get it," said Gary Christian.
Judge Blackwood told the jury when it was selected last Friday in Jackson, TN that he expects the trial to last a week. Tuesday's testimony ended after 6 p.m. Both the Christian and Newsom families said they will be at the trial every day until the jury's verdicts are read.
For the fifth time in two years, the families of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, are sitting through a trial of one of the suspects linked to their children's 2007 murders. Vanessa Coleman is being retried for her role in the murder of Christian after the judge who presided over her initial trial in 2010 plead guilty to "official misconduct" during that time & has since resigned from the bench.
Knox County Assistant District Attorney, Takisha Fitzgerald, started opening statements for the state at 9:30 Tuesday morning. Her co-council, Assistant District Attorney, Leland Price first read the 17 count indictment to the jury.
Christian's parents, Deena and Gary, and Newsom's parents, Hugh and Mary, sat and listened to the counts being read, surrounded by about a dozen supporters. Mr. Christian sat most of the time with his head down, the other family members showed no emotions. Coleman also showed no emotion as Price read the indictment.
Coleman's parents also appear to be in court, sitting behind her in the second row of the gallery.
Fitzgerald's opening statements introduce the "characters" the jury will hear throughout the trial, including Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, and George Thomas.
Fitzgerald details the timeline of the kidnapping and murders to the court. She did not connect Coleman to Davidson, Cobbins or Thomas to Christian's murder, but did demonstrate Christian's belongings were found with Coleman after her murder.
After the state's opening statements, defense attorney, Ted Lavit, asks Judge John Kerry Blackwood to allow an "immunity form" Coleman signed to be presented as evidence. Lavit argued it should be allowed because it shows federal authorities determined Coleman was not involved in the murders. Price argues the state did not prepare the form, and is "hearsay." Judge Blackwood ruled the form cannot be admitted as evidence.
In the defense's opening statements Lavit tells the jury there is "no evidence" that links Coleman to the murders themselves. He admits Coleman was there, gave Christian water, and took Christian's pulse after Davidson demanded it. As expected, Lavit is placing Coleman as a bystander who didn't really know the extent of the crimes Davidson, Thomas, and Cobbins had committed.
State's first witness
Prosecutors called Josh Anderson, Chris Newsom's best friend, as their first witness Tuesday morning. Anderson testified to details about January 6, 2007, the last day he spent with the buddy he said he called "Newsom." Anderson said the two played golf, hung out, and made plans to attend a party later that night. He said Newsom was supposed to take Channon Christian to dinner before the party. Anderson told the court Newsom and Christian never showed up to the party, something he didn't think much about until he still hadn't heard from them the following morning.
Anderson testified about how he helped the Christian and Newsom families search for Channon and Chris when they determined no one had heard of them and something was wrong.
Prosecutors also asked Anderson to identify a ball cap and a pair of running shoes that belonged to Newsom, items Newsome wore the last time Anderson saw him.
Coleman is being retried on 17 of the original 32 counts the state charged her with in 2009. A jury found her not guilty of 15 counts associated with the kidnapping, rape, torture, and murder of Chris Newsom. She cannot be retried for those because of Tennessee's double-jeopardy law. That jury found Coleman guilty of facilitating the 17 counts, so this time she is charged with "facilitation".
The jury was selected last Friday, in Jackson, Tennessee. They are sequestered. Judge Blackwood said the trial is expected to last a week.