Deena Christian: 'Channon and Chris got a little justice'

NASHVILLE - Her chances were slim to begin with. On Wednesday, members of the Tennessee Board of Parole confirmed the expected: Vanessa L. Coleman isn't getting parole in her first bid for freedom.

After a hearing that lasted about 90 minutes, five members of the panel turned down the 26-year-old's request in an afternoon hearing at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville, where Coleman is serving a 35-year sentence.

She won't be eligible for parole again until December 2020, that's the maximum time between parole hearings that the board could pick. She'll be 32 then. The board said, they chose the maximum because of the severity of this crime.

Coleman was convicted in 2012 for her role in the January 2007 torture-slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Chris Newsom, 23. Ringleader Lemaricus Davidson, his brother Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas also were convicted in the case.

The five board members who were allowed to vote were unanimous in the decision. One member of the seven person board was absent, and the other is new to the board so he did not vote.

More than thirty people attended the hearing, but Coleman's parents were the only people there to support her.

The board asked Coleman questions about her history, then asked if she could summarize what happened back in January 2007. She declined to talk about the crime because she is going through the appeal process.

Coleman's parents spoke on her behalf, then the large contingent of people there to oppose Coleman's parole got their chance to speak.

"It affected everybody in the Knoxville community," said Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge.

Knox County Deputy District Attorney General Leland Price spoke on behalf of the DA's Office through video. Someone also read a letter from Knoxville Police Department Chief David Rausch.

The parents of Channon and Chris attended the meeting and were adamant Coleman does not deserve freedom.

"I've got a heart that's full of pain, and anguish, and hate, and revenge and I didn't put it there," said Gary Christian, Channon's father.

They also took into consideration an online petition with more than 322,000 signatures and the more than two thousands letters they had received.

Several of the speakers referenced an entry from Coleman's diary, dated three days after the torture, rape and murders of Channon and Chris.

In the entry, Coleman writes, "I've had one hell of an adventure since I've been in the big TN. It's a crazy world these days! But I love the fun adventures and lessons that I've learned. Its going to be a long interesting year! Ha! Ha!"

"This is not the thinking of a normal person," remarked Mary Newsom, Chris' mother.

Before the hearing ended, Coleman was given one last chance to speak where she apologized to the parents and said she was a changed person.

"I'd like to say I apologize for your losses. If I could have changed things, I would have changed things. But it wasn't in my control. If you grant me parole, I will greatly appreciate it. I have changed so much. I'm not the person I used to be," she said.

Coleman mentioned she had hopes of becoming a cosmetologist.

"You know, I really didn't think she'd be granted parole but with everything, with our track record in the courtrooms and the system, you just couldn't help but worry that something crazy could go wrong but Channon and Chris got a little justice today," said Deena Christian, Channon's mother.

Coleman is serving a 35-year sentence for facilitation of felony murder, aggravated kidnapping and rape. She's already served more than seven years, having been taken into custody soon after the killings.

Coleman was convicted for crimes against Christian only. A jury at her first trial declined to convict her of having any role in the attack against Newsom.

According to authorities, the victims were carjacked from a Washington Pike apartment complex and forced to go to Davidson's Chipman Street house. Newsom was raped and killed shortly after, and the killers set his body on fire by nearby railroad tracks.

Related:Board set to consider parole for Vanessa Coleman WednesdayMore:Family members of victims of violence honor loved ones

Christian was held in the house and intermittently raped and tortured. She suffocated in a garbage can found in the house.

"It's ridiculous that you can be a part of the worst, most horrific crime in the state of Tennessee...and you can be...as big a part of that as she was, and be eligible for parole in seven years. It ain't happening," said Christian's father, Gary Christian, the day before the parole hearing.

The families expected Coleman to be eligible for parole in 2017, when she would have served 30% of her 35-year sentence. But they learned that Coleman acquires up to 16 days per month shaved off her sentence for "good behavior."

The Christians and Newsoms plan on creating legislation that would make it harder for violent and aggravated offenders to receive time off for good behavior.

Although Coleman has served enough time to become eligible for parole consideration under state guidelines, parole never was a sure thing for Coleman.

The board, chaired by Richard Montgomery, a former Sevier County lawmaker, grants release in about 37 percent of the cases it hears each year, according to Melissa McDonald, the board's communications director. Violent crimes in particular draw board scrutiny.

Coleman first was tried in May 2010 in Knox County Criminal Court. She was acquitted of some charges but ultimately received a sentence of 53 years. The case was thrown out, however, because of judicial misconduct by Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Among the factors board members consider when evaluating an inmate: The seriousness of the crime, how much time the inmate already has served, input from a victim's family and the inmate's behavioral record while in prison.

After her 2012 retrial, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood sentenced her to 35 years.

Authorities say Coleman was in Knoxville for a visit with Cobbins and Thomas to the Chipman Street home the weekend of the killings. She, Thomas and Cobbins lived in Kentucky.

Prosecutors alleged she knew about and aided in Christian's kidnapping at the house. She also took some of Christian's things, evidence showed.

Davidson, 33, by all accounts the leader in the torture-slayings, received a death sentence in the case. He's awaiting execution at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, according to Department of Correction records.

Cobbins, who turns 32 on Dec. 20, also is at Riverbend, according to records. He's frequently complained about his treatment at the prison.

With his sentence, Cobbins must spend the rest of his life in prison.

Thomas, 31, also is at Riverbend, according to records. He is serving consecutive life sentences.

A fifth defendant, Eric D. Boyd, 42, also has been convicted in a related case. A federal jury found Boyd, a career criminal, guilty of helping to hide Davidson, a friend, a couple days after the bodies of Christian and Newsom were discovered.

Boyd is being held at a federal correctional facility in Beaver, W. Va. His release date is set for October 2022, according to federal Bureau of Prison records.


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