Could an online petition that already has over 33,000 signatures (as of Monday afternoon) sway a parole decision for the woman convicted in connection with one of Knoxville's most brutal crimes?
The answer is, yes. Maybe.
The petition to "Deny Parole To Vanessa Coleman, Offender #473393" was published Saturday evening on Change.org, according to Dan Frye who created the petition along with Hugh Newsom.
Vanessa Coleman was convicted of facilitation of first degree murder in the death of Channon Christian. She and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom, were carjacked, raped, tortured, and murdered in January of 2007. Coleman has been behind bars ever since, serving a 35-year sentence a judge handed down in February 2013 for her role in the crimes.
Two men are serving life sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders. Another was sentenced to death.
The Newsoms said they expected Coleman to be eligible for parole in 2017, when she would have served 30% of her 35 consecutive year sentence. But they learned last week Coleman could get 16 days per month shaved off her sentence for "good behavior."
The petition, if submitted to the Tennessee Board of Parole before Coleman's case is considered, could be a factor in the decision.
According to Melissa McDonald, Communications Director for the parole board, the board will consider any petition or letters submitted before Coleman's case is before the board on October 8. There are several other factors they will also consider:
- Time served
- Seriousness of the offense
- Victim impact
- The offender's disciplinary record while incarcerated
- Any evidence-based or vocational programs the offender may have completed while incarcerated
- Letters and comments for or against the offender's candidacy for parole, etc.
There are seven members of the parole board. Cases involving loss of life, like Coleman's, would require four of the members to agree on a decision.
McDonald said the board grants parole to about 37% of the offenders who appear before them. If Coleman is denied parole, the board will determine when they will hear her case again in the next one to six years.
Coleman is being held in the Tennessee Prison for Woman in Davidson County.
The families of the young couple were devastated when they were informed that Coleman could be eligible for parole so soon.
"We were expecting a little breathing room. We knew she would be coming up for parole, applying the 30 percent off of 35 years comes to 10.5 years when we knew she would be coming up at that point for a parole hearing. But we never dreamed it would be this early," said Hugh Newsom.
"It's kind of like another slap in the face to the victims to have to go through this. We were never told she could get out even earlier for good behavior," said Mary Newsom.
"Apparently as long as they are there for bed check, which I think is 9 p.m., and they behave decently, then they are awarded 16 days per month, 192 days per year," explained Hugh Newsom. "And we're not talking about cells. She's staying in dormitory rooms."
"I feel she's very dangerous. She's an evil person. She enjoyed that weekend that she spent there. Thought it was fun. That's not the kind of person you want out on the street again," said Mary Newsom.