Jurors serving in the controversial retrial of Vanessa Coleman went home Monday night after deliberating for about two hours. Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood charged the in the afternoon by reading through each of the 17th counts against Coleman.
The jury is from Jackson in West Tennessee. It is made up of four African American women, two Caucasian women, three African American men and three Caucasian men.
Jurors are charged with making unanimous decisions on the counts against Coleman. The 17 counts have to do with the kidnapping, rape, murder, and theft of Channon Christian between January 6-7, 2007. There are dozens of verdict combinations the jury can come up with, which means it could take them some time to reach unanimous decisions on the charges.
For perspective, it took the jury around 12 hours to reach verdicts in Coleman's initial trial in 2010. Then, the jury had to decide on 32 counts; 17 having to do with Christian's death and 15 having to do with Newsom's death. The jury acquitted Coleman on the Newsom counts. They found her guilty of the other counts; she is currently serving a 53 year sentence for those.
Ultimately, in the retrial, the burden of proof is on the state, and much of the evidence is circumstantial. The defense has maintained that Coleman is a victim who was scared of the other suspects: Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas.
Channon Christian's parents have sat through every day of the five day trial. They believe prosecutors effectively argued the case against Coleman's defense team.
"If the jury is playing attention, there's no other verdict but guilty," said Deena Christian.
"I can't get over the fact that in our justice system, we can sit in a criminal court room and listen to people lie all day long," said Gary Christian, referring to the defense's interpretation of some of the evidence and testimony prosecutors put forth in the case.
Both sides in Vanessa Coleman's controversial retrial presented their closing arguments to the court on Monday, and the case will go to the jury sometime in the afternoon.
Prosecutor TaKisha Fitzgerald laid out what happened in the days before and after Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were murdered on January 7, 2007.
Fitzgerald told the court, "If she was not a part of it, she would have left."
That's the essence of the state's case: that Coleman knew what was going down, had several chances to leave, and chose not to leave or get help.
Prosecutors have presented one piece of evidence as central to Coleman's guilt. Police found her journal with her in Kentucky in the days after the murders. She had written about her "adventures in Tennessee." A handwriting expert told the court earlier this week that the writing in the journal for that entry matched Coleman's handwriting sample.
Knox Co. Assistant District Attorney Leland Price read part of that entry to jurors today, a photograph of it was shown on a big screen in the courtroom.
Price read Coleman's words, "Although a lot of this is new to me, life is a trip. It's amazing how things play its own role. Life is interesting now and full of surprises, even very unexpected. Things happen that you don't expect."
Then Price asked the jury, "Now, does this sound like someone that's been held hostage and witnesses another one brutally murdered?"
Prosecutors want the jury to believe there's no way Christian didn't scream during her rapes & there is no way Coleman didn't hear Christian.
Last week, the state established that Coleman heard Christian pleading with ring-leader Lemaricus Davidson at one point after he kidnapped Christian, "No! Don't! Stop!"
Defense attorney Ted Lavit argued that Coleman did not play a role in the murders other than being present when Christian was killed. He hammered to the jury that "mere presence" is not a crime.
"I think she was a hostage herself...Any evidence that Vanessa watched that girl?," Lavit asked the jury.
The defense wants the jury to believe that Coleman was a victim in the crimes, too, that Cobbins and Davidson were controlling and threatening her, too, and that she was too scared to try to leave when she may have had a chance.
"Vanessa Coleman did not commit a crime. She didn't render substantial assistance because mere presence is no more than Tom Robinson's in the home of Miss May Ella," Lavit argued.
Lavit argued the state doesn't have enough substantial evidence on Coleman to support its case.
"The killers spoke in whispers. Cobbins and Thomas took turns watching and reporting to Davidson. They were look-outs for Davidson," Lavit reminded the jury.
Closing arguments come after the state called 49 witnesses (that includes two pieces of reenacted testimony from previous interviews) throughout the first four days of the trial last week.
The defense called its only two witnesses this morning, Coleman's parents, Greg and Linda, after Coleman told Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood she "refused" to testify on her own behalf.
Coleman is being retried for facilitating the rape and murder of Christian. A jury previously acquitted her of 15 charges for her role in Newsom's kidnapping, rape, and murder in 2010. She cannot be retried for those because of double jeopardy. Coleman's retrial is a result of the judge in her original trial later admitting he abused prescription pills while on the bench.
Jurors are due back in court Tuesday at 9 a.m. to continue their deliberations.
Update 11:20 am. The defense has rested its case. Prosecutor TaKisha Fitzgerald is presenting her closing argument. The jury is expected to the get the case this afternoon.
Vanessa Coleman's defense team got their turn Monday morning to call witnesses to the stand in her controversial retrial. But, first defense attorney Ted Lavit asked Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood to dismiss the charges against Coleman due to insufficient evidence. Blackwood declined the Rule 29 request.
Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood asked Coleman if she was aware that it is her right as a defendant not to testify on her own behalf. She acknowledged she understood. Coleman replied, "I refuse not to testify, Your Honor," when Judge Blackwood asked her if she intended to testify.
Lavit's first defense witness was Coleman's father, Greg Coleman. He testified about bringing Coleman to Knoxville 10 days after the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. Coleman, and her mother, Linda, were subpoenaed to testify before the federal Grand Jury in Knoxville.
Greg Coleman told the court that ATF Agent Bernard Waggoner, Knoxville Police Detective Todd Childress, and another law enforcement official took Vanessa on a ride-along around Knoxville. Officers wanted Coleman to identify locations associated with the murders; Mr. Coleman also on the ride. Mr. Coleman said Vanessa was unable to identify any of the locations officers drove her to, including the apartment complex where the car jacking and kidnappings of Christian and Newsom occurred.
Most of Mr. Coleman's testimony was in regard to Vanessa initially being a federal witness in the crimes. Mr. Coleman did not take the stand in Vanessa's initial trial in 2010.
During the state's cross-examination, Prosecutor Leland Price honed in on the days after police initially questioned Coleman in Kentucky about the crimes, before she was subpoenaed to Knox County.
The defense also called Vanessa Coleman's mother, Linda, to the stand. She was subpoenaed to testify before the federal Grand Jury in Knoxville, along with Vanessa, and her oldest daughter. Mrs. Coleman was present for several interviews Vanessa did with law enforcement throughout January 2006.
It is likely both sides will deliver closing arguments later Monday. Then the jury gets the case and will begin deliberations.
After being sequestered during the weekend, the jury in Vanessa Coleman's retrial will be back in court Monday morning at 9:00 a.m.
Coleman is being tried for her role in the murder of Channon Christian in 2007.
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.
Friday night, prosecutors rested their case which included testimony from 49 witnesses.
The most significant piece of information to come out in court on Friday is Coleman admitting in separate tape-recorded interviews with authorities that she took Christian's pulse after Lemaricus Davidson choked Christian. Coleman also said in those recordings that Davidson made her do it.