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Prosecutors rest case; Coleman retrial resumes Monday

8:47 PM, Nov 16, 2012   |    comments
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  • Vanessa Coleman on Day 3 of her retrial.
  • Vanessa Coleman

Prosecutors rested their case Friday night in the retrial of Vanessa Coleman. The jury is sequestered in Knoxville for the weekend.  

The state called its 49th, and final, witness to the stand around 6:30 p.m. Friday night.  East Tennessee State University professor and handwriting expert, Dr. Larry Miller, testified that he had compared the handwriting in Coleman's journal to samples from Coleman.  He determined that the most of the writing in the journal, and the samples, were from the same person. 

Police found Coleman's journal with her in Kentucky, where she traveled to with Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas, after the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were committed in Knoxville.  Coleman wrote about her "adventures" in Tennessee in the journal on the car ride from Knoxville to Kentucky. 

 Dr. Miller said one page of phone numbers, written on the page after the entry Coleman wrote during the car ride, did not appear to be written by Coleman.  He said the shapes of the letter "m's," and numbers "2" and "8" were different.

Court is in recess until 9 a.m. Monday.

Previous Story

Vanessa Coleman's retrial for her role in the murder of Channon Christian is continuing in to Friday evening so prosecutors can wrap up their case. So far, the jury has heard from 48 witnesses since the trial started on Tuesday.  

Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood gave the jury a dinner break just before 6 p.m., interrupting testimony from TBI D-N-A expert, Jennifer Milsaps. Her testimony is about who's D-N-A was found where on Channon Christian's body, the bindings used to tie up Christian, and the clothes Christian was wearing when she was murdered. Milsaps said Coleman's D-N-A was found on the material used to bind Christian.

Defense attorney Russell Greene questioned Milsaps if the amount and type of Coleman's D-N-A found on that material (which have been determined to be ripped bed sheets).  The sheets also contained D-N-A from Christian, Cobbins, and Davidson. 

Greene asked if Coleman's D-N-A could have gotten on the sheets from "sleeping or having sex repeatedly."

Milsaps said, "yes."  

Earlier Friday, jurors learned that investigators interviewed Coleman nine times before Knoxville Police arrested her on January 31, 2007 for her role in Newsom's and Christian's deaths.
Testimony from AFT agent Bernard Waggoner and Knoxville Police Detective Todd Childress revealed that Coleman lied to police in early interviews-, but by the last two, she gave detailed accounts of what she knew happened during weekend the couple was carjacked and eventually murdered.

The most significant piece of information to come out in court on Friday is Coleman admitting in separate tape-recorded interviews with Waggoner and Childress that she took Christian's pulse after Lemaricus Davidson choked Christian. Coleman also said in those recordings that Davidson made her do it.

Through those interviews prosecutors established that Coleman initially lied to police about what she knew, and gradually, with each interview, started telling the truth.

Waggoner took the stand first on Friday.  In his interview with Coleman, taped on January 31, 2007, tells Waggoner that Davidson made her check Christian's pulse after Davidson committed his final attack on Christian by choking her.  Coleman said she couldn't find a pulse.

"And he started yelling at me, come here, come here, come here. And I was like, what? He said, come here, check her to see if she's alive. I can't tell...I couldn't tell and he started yelling at me, get out, get out," Coleman answered during the interview.
That admission was the first time Coleman had told police that information.  At that point she went from witness in a federal case, in protective custody, to a suspect arrested by the Knoxville Police Department.
The jury heard from Det. Childress next. He interviewed Coleman after Waggoner, on the same day.  Det. Childress testified that the Knox Co. Grand Jury had indicted Coleman by this point, but that he did not tell her because he was afraid she would not tell the truth if she knew a warrant was out for her arrest in the murders. Prosecutors played a recording of that lengthy interview as well where Coleman again admitted checking Christian's pulse after Davidson choked Christian.

Things got a little tense when Coleman's defense attorney, Ted Lavit, cross examined Det. Childress about what Coleman said during the interview, and how her words can be interpreted

Lavit used Coleman's words, as transcribed, to make the point that Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, and George Thomas kept Coleman in the dark about what happened throughout the weekend, and that Coleman was scared of Davidson after he choked Christian.

Lavit read part of the interview transcript to Det. Childress, "Where she's asked to check the pulse. 'And I was like what? And he was like check her pulse and see if she was alive. And I told him, I did what he told me. I couldn't tell and he got made and started yelling, telling me to get out, get out. Shut up, don't say nothing.' He was ordering her around there too, wasn't he?"

"Yes, sir," replied Det. Childress.

Coleman's defense team is portraying her as an 18-year old victim, at the time, who was being controlled by her boyfriend Letalvis Cobbins and by Davidson.

"The only thing he's got is to tell the jury is she was held captive. That's all he's got to go on," said Channon's dad, Gary Christian, when asked what he thought about the defense portraying Coleman in that way.

Ultimately, the crux of this case, and what the jury must consider, is if Coleman aided in Christian's murder by checking Christian's pulse after she saw Davidson choke Christian.
It's what all of the evidence and witnesses that prosecutors have presented, so far, lead up to. 

Friday morning testimony

Jurors heard some tense moments Friday morning between Vanessa Coleman's defense attorney and a witness in her retrial. Jurors also heard Coleman, in her own words again, talk about Channon Christian's murder in January 2007.
Coleman entered the court room a few minutes after 9 a.m., and took a seat at the defense table, in front of her parents Greg and Linda. Christian's parents sat with the parents of Channon's boyfriend, Chris Newsom, who was also murdered the same weekend nearly six years ago. Coleman's defense attorney, Ted Lavit, has said multiple times over the past few days that Coleman's presence during Christian's murder is not a crime.  Prosecutors allege that Coleman facilitated Christian's murder.   
Federal ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner was the only prosecution witness to take the stand Friday morning.  He interviewed Coleman first in Kentucky, four days after Christian's murder, on January 11, 2007. He  also interviewed Coleman several more times in Knoxville later that month, before she was arrested in Knoxville on January 31 for her part in the murders.
Lavit told the court Waggoner interviewed Coleman nine times, always without an attorney present, and she always cooperated.  Waggoner testified he agreed with that information calling Coleman "pleasant" and mentioning that Coleman usually had a family member with her. Waggoner described Coleman's story as changing over the course of the interviews; she eventually offered the truth about what happened after Waggoner asked Coleman's mother to "talk to your daughter."
Prosecutors played an audio recording of Waggoner's January 28, 2007 interview with Coleman for the court.  In the tape, Coleman tells Waggoner she saw Lemaricus Davidson choke Christian. Waggoner asks Coleman if she had any part in killing or raping Christian, tying her up or guarding her at the Chipman St house. Coleman replies, "no."  She also says Davidson made her check Christian's pulse after the choking. Coleman says she didn't feel one.  As the medical examiner testified Thursday afternoon, Christian died from suffocation from a plastic bag being put over her head, not from strangulation.

During defense cross-examination, Lavit pressed Waggoner on his knowledge if Coleman directly helped kill Christian or dispose of her body.  Waggoner first answered that he wasn't in the house when the murder happened.  Lavit and Knox County Assistant District Attorney Leland Price exchanged arguments about the line of questioning.  Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood instructed Waggoner to answer the question.  He said "no."

Jurors heard testimony similar to Waggoner's on Thursday, and heard similar audio-taped interviews between Coleman and other law enforcement officials.  However, Waggoner's testimony and the audio tape is the first time the jury heard coleman admit to touching Christian's body.

"In this interview she tells that she has actually gotten a hold of the bindings that were, that she actually touched the bindings that were on, that the female victim was tied up with the cloth bindings, and that is something that she hadn't told us before," Waggoner testified.
Police later found Coleman's DNA on the bindings Waggoner mentioned. Those are the same bindings prosecutors mentioned in their opening statements on Tuesday, and are key pieces of evidence in this case. The jury must consider if Coleman's actions checking Christian's pulse facilitated the murder, or if, as the defense maintains, Coleman was threatened by Davidson, and later Cobbins.  Coleman's defense attorney has said multiple times since the trial started that Coleman's presence during Christian's murder is not a crime.   

Coleman is being retried because the judge in her initial trial in 2010 admitted to abusing prescription pills while on the bench during that time. A jury then acquitted Coleman of 17 charges involving Newsom's death; she cannot be retried for those because of the state's double jeopardy law.  In this retrial, Coleman faces 15 counts of "facilitation" of Christian's murder.

Previous story

Testimony in the fourth day of the Vanessa Coleman retrial began Friday morning at 9:00 a.m.

She is being prosecuted again for her role in the murder of Channon Christian.

The judge who presided over her initial trial in 2010 plead guilty to "official misconduct" during that time and has since resigned from the bench.

Until Thursday afternoon, most of the witnesses prosecutors had called to the stand in Vanessa Coleman's controversial retrial have been law enforcement officials, friends of Channon Christian and Coleman, and Christian's family members. As expected, that evidence set the stage for jurors to hear, in Coleman's words, what happened the day in January 2007 when Lemaricus Davidson's actions resulted in Christian's murder.

On Thursday, Coleman sat subdued in court as prosecutors played an audio recording of an interview Knox County Sheriff's officials did with her after they arrested her in Kentucky on January 11, 2007-- three days after Christian's death.

Christian's parents were in the courtroom as they have been throughout the retrial.

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