Christians go to Nashville in support 'Channon Christian Act'

Gary and Deena Christian still keep pictures of their smiling twenty-one year old daughter scattered throughout their living room. Now, seven years after Channon Christian's death, the snapshots are mixed in among more recent family photos including an ultrasound picture of the couple's unborn grandchild due in May.

As visible as Channon remains in their home, the couple is hoping that by promoting legislation in the names of their daughter and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom, they will preserve their memories in the public realm. They want their daughter and Chris to leave behind a legacy that includes improving the criminal justice system.

"I don't want people just to remember that Channon was the girl that got raped," said Gary. "We want our children to be remembered in the most positive way that they can," said Gary Christian inside his West Knoxville living room Monday.

In 2007, Channon Christian and her boyfriend Chris Newsom were carjacked, tortured, raped and murdered in the home of Lemarcuis Davidson, who has since been convicted twice in the couple's slaying, in addition to Vanessa Coleman, Letalvis Cobbins, and George Thomas.

House Representative Ryan Haynes (R-Knoxville) and State Senator Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) are sponsoring two bills this legislative session, one bearing each of the victim's names.

The Chris Newsom Act would eliminate the need for a judge's signature on a jury verdict after a unanimous verdict is delivered. The '13th juror' rule stipulates a judge must validate the receipt and acceptance of a jury's verdict by signing a document.

Revelations of presiding Judge Richard Baumgartner's prescription pill addiction came to light before signing off on the verdicts in each of the four defendant's trials. When Judge John Kerry Blackwood took over the cases he ordered retrials, saying he was unable to perform the '13th juror' duty because he was not present for the original proceedings.

"Every time something comes up in a courtroom that the district attorney stands up and quotes the Channon Christian Act ," said Gary, "they're never going to be forgotten."

"We don't want anybody to have to go through what we went through," said Deena Christian, referring to how painful it was to sit through two rounds of trials with her husband and listen to defense attorney's question her daughter's character.

The Channon Christian Act would prevent defense attorneys from introducing allegations of previous behavior to impugn the character of a victim, mirroring the protection currently afforded to defendants in many instances.

"What if it was your kid?" asked Deena. "What if they called your kid a drug addict or a whore?"

The Christians will travel to Nashville in support of the bills Tuesday to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, alongside Mary and High Newsom.

When asked what chances he gives the bills of passing, Representative Haynes said he doesn't like to make projections but he was confident their testimony would prove very "sympathetic."

The Christians say these bills are just the beginning of the criminal justice reforms they hope to inspire.

"We're going to spend the rest of our lives trying to make it better," said Gary.

In the future they say they intend to promote a new law that would require judges who sit on high stakes cases, such as aggravated burglaries or murders, to undergo drug testing before and after trials.

"We would never have come up with this bill if Baumgartner hadn't sat on that bench and did drugs." said Gary.


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