First, a few thoughts…
I’ve written about many horrific crimes, but the Channon Christian-Christopher Newsom murders left a scar on my heart. It is truly one of the most horrifying tales I’ve ever heard. It took me several days to wrap my head around it before I could start writing about it.
If you struggle with depression, PTSD, or you’re just a soft-hearted person, you might want to think twice before reading this. You’ve been warned.
It the Blink of an Eye
It was January 6, 2007, and Knoxville residents Channon Christian, 21, and Chris Newsom, 23, had recently started dating. 
That evening, the couple chatted and enjoyed dinner at a local restaurant. They planned to go to a friend’s apartment to watch a movie later that night, and then they were supposed to go on to attend another friend’s birthday party.
What they didn’t know — what they couldn’t have known — was that their paths were about to cross with a handful of angry individuals looking for a way to take their rage out on innocent people.
Lemaricus Davidson’s life was not going well. He didn’t have a dime to his name, and he didn’t even have a set of wheels.  His main source of income was selling dope on the streets. In the early days of 2006, he was on probation for carjacking and was suspected in a string of robberies.
His brother, Letalvis Cobbins, came to Knoxville to celebrate New Year’s with him. The two hadn’t seen each other in a long time, due to Davidson’s incarceration. Traveling from Kentucky, Letalvis brought with him his girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, and his friend, George Thomas.
All three of them were jobless, carless, and penniless. Cobbins and Thomas were homeless. Coleman could have turned to his salt-of-the-earth family for help but chose not to.
Cobbins soon wore out his welcome and Davidson grew increasingly angry at what he viewed as his houseguests’ freeloading ways.
Davidson decided to take out his rage on his girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, first. He beat the woman, so she left him on January 5.  This only enraged him more. Now he was thirsty for blood and he was about to enact his revenge in a manner that far eclipsed the abuse that Sutton had endured at his hands.
When January 6 rolled around, Davidson had a plan to solve his financial and transportation woes.  He didn’t care if he had to go back to prison. Been there, done that. “A dude’s got to do what a dude’s got to do,” he thought. With the help of his brother and his friend, Eric Boyd, he would carjack someone.
Minding Their Own Business
Channon and Chris left their friend’s apartment in North Knoxville off Washington Pike and got into Christian’s Toyota 4Runner to go to their other friend’s birthday party.
Channon was sitting in the driver’s seat and Chris was standing in the open door of the vehicle, kissing her, when they suddenly found themselves staring at the barrel of a gun. 
Boyd and Davidson quickly took control of the 4Runner. Cobbins hopped in the driver’s seat of Boyd’s borrowed car. Boyd and Davidson drove the terrified and confused couple to Davidson’s Chipman Street home as Cobbins followed closely behind. 
When Chris didn’t come home that night, his parents, Mary and Hugh Newsom, weren’t concerned. At 23, Chris mostly came and went as he pleased. If he didn’t come home, they assumed he spent the night at a friend’s house.
Channon, on the other hand, still called home to tell her parents where she was going and when they could expect her to come back. When she didn’t do so on the night of January 6, Gary and Deena Christian knew something wasn’t right and began to panic.
The Newsoms also started to panic when Deena called them to alert them to the fact that their daughter had been neither seen nor heard from since the previous night. Deena told the Newsoms that she was going to file a missing person’s report.
On January 7, Xavier Jenkins, an employee of Waste Connections, was going about his daily duties when he made a grim discovery. It was the lifeless, charred body of a young man dumped near the railroad tracks between 9th and Cherry streets. It was that of Christopher Newsom.  
The news of the discovery sent shockwaves through the community, particularly through the Christian household. Channon’s parents desperately clung to the hope that their little girl was somewhere out there, still alive, but they couldn’t deny that it was becoming less and less likely that they would get their wish.
It was on January 8 that Channon’s vehicle was located by her family on Glider Avenue. A search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of fingerprints belonging to Lemaricus, leading investigators to track him to his rental home on Chipman Street.
Tragically, Davidson’s home was found to be Channon’s final resting place. On January 9, her battered body was discovered there in a trash can, just two blocks from where her vehicle was found.
There is no “good” way to be murdered, but a quick bullet to the heads of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom would have been most merciful. Both went through hours of horror and agony before they took their final breaths.
When Christopher’s body was found along the railroad tracks, he had a sock in his mouth.  His ankles were bound with his own belt, his hands bound behind his back. A bandana was wrapped around his face and his head was covered with a sweatshirt tied around his neck with shoestrings.
In the final hours of his life, Christopher had been raped with an object and forced to walk barefoot to the railroad tracks. A gunshot to the neck and back left him paralyzed and as he lay on the tracks, he was shot in the head with a .22 caliber pistol.
Then, Christopher’s body was wrapped in a comforter, doused with gasoline, and set ablaze.
Channon’s ordeal was even more nightmarish. Davidson tied her up inside his Chipman St. home, where she was raped repeatedly in every possible fashion. Her genital region showed severe wounds suggesting that someone either kicked her or beat her, leaving a massive pool of blood on the floor.
Cobbins testified in court that he promised Channon that he would free her if she gave him oral sex. Forensic evidence showed that Channon was orally raped with such force that a membrane in her mouth was severed.
She suffered two blows to the head and was dragged into the living room where bleach was poured down her throat in an effort to erase DNA evidence.
Davidson broke her neck, and then, using strips of fabric from a bedding set, Channon was hogtied, her body was wrapped in black garbage bags, and her head was wrapped in a white plastic grocery bag. Finally, her attackers stuffed her inside a trash can in the kitchen and left her to slowly suffocate to death.  
Of all the animals on this planet, there seems to be none more cold-blooded and callous as the human species.
On January 11, authorities located and arrested Cobbins, Thomas, and Davidson.  The following day, Boyd was served with a federal warrant.
The Long Pursuit of Justice Begins
Trials for the four defendants began in May 2008.  A total of 46 charges were brought against them including felony murder, first-degree murder, aggravated robbery, kidnapping, aggravated rape, murder, and theft. Eric Boyd was not mentioned in any of the charges. In court documents, Letalvis Cobbins and Letalvis Davidson are both the same person. (I’ll be referring to him as “Cobbins”.)
All federal charges were related to carjacking.
Cobbins, Davidson, Coleman, and Thomas all faced the death penalty, with Davidson listed as the ringleader.
Eventually, Boyd was charged, but only with accessory after the fact. He was tried for hiding out and helping Davidson evade arrest.
In August 2008, Cobbins was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Channon and facilitation of murder in connection to the death of Christopher.  He was sentenced to life in prison.
On October 28 of that year, Davidson was convicted on counts of first-degree murder and first-degree felony murder. Additionally, he was found guilty of facilitation of aggravated rape. He was given the death penalty.
On December 8, George Thomas was convicted on all counts, including more than a dozen counts of felony murder and two counts of premeditated murder. He was given life in prison.
In May of 2010, Vanessa Coleman was convicted on charges of facilitation of murder, kidnapping, rape, and theft of Channon. She was found not guilty on charges related to Christopher’s death. On July 30, she was sentenced to 53 years in prison.
In January of 2011, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) announced that it was investigating Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the trials of Cobbins, Davidson, Coleman, Thomas, and Boyd.
It seems that Baumgartner had a bit of a drug problem.
Baumgartner was a well-known and much-respected judge in Tennessee.  He pushed to allow cameras in the courtroom for the first time in the state. He also founded a Drug Court program that was so successful it became a model for all of Tennessee.
During his time on the bench, Baumgartner presided over several high-profile cases apart from the Christian-Newsom murders.
Rumors about some of Baumgartner’s lifestyle choices began to emerge in the mid-2000s, but he was so well-liked that those in the legal community initially defended him, in spite of the gossip.
Knoxville attorney Gregory P. Isaacs said upon Baumgartner’s death in January 2018 at the age of 70:
“Judge Baumgartner was a personable, fair, and firm judge who always tried to do the right thing. He always conducted himself with passion and integrity. We’re all human.”
Certainly, judges are not immune to personal problems, but his actions brought into question his ability to rule with clarity.
Baumgartner developed an addiction to painkillers while being treated for a broken toe. It’s a very common and very tragic story. Opioid addiction is a scourge on American society and those who wrestle with opiate addiction typically become dependent on the drug through no fault of their own.
Until very recently, doctors commonly prescribed longer-than-necessary courses of painkillers for ailments that could easily be treated with over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. When opiates were introduced to the market, Big Pharma assured them that they were safe and non-habit forming. (Google “the Sackler family” and “OxyContin” if you want to really understand how the opioid epidemic swept the country.)
The problem with opioids is that the longer you take them, and the higher the dose, the less they work. In fact, opioids cause something called “rebound pain.”
This comes from the website HealthPartners.com: 
“Opioids do provide relief by blocking pain. But then, your body reacts by increasing the number of receptors to try to get the pain signal through again. So when the drug wears off, a person will experience more pain for about three days. If they continue to take opioids, the pills become less and less effective. The pain keeps increasing not because of an injury, but due to the opioids themselves.”
Judge Baumgartner certainly didn’t plan on becoming an opioid addict, but unfortunately, he did, and he began buying pain pills from a man named Christopher Lee Gibson, who was on probation in Baumgartner’s court. 
Baumgartner would meet Gibson in a trailer park to buy 10–20 pills as often as three times a week.
Other times, Baumgartner purchased pills from Deena Castleman, a participant in the judge’s famed Drug Court program. In May 2009, Coleman came to Baumgartner looking for help. Instead, the judge forced her to become his mistress and forced her to supply him with painkillers.
Baumgartner also had a drinking problem, and in June 2007, he was prescribed a drug to control anxiety related to alcohol withdrawal. 
At one point, Baumgartner was getting pills from 12 different doctors, including a veterinarian. In the course of 28 months, the judge purchased 2,243 pills.
Eventually, it became clear that the rumors were true when Baumgartner began slurring his speech while overseeing cases.  This prompted the TBI to begin looking into the rumors, and in March 2011, Baumgartner pleaded guilty to related charges and resigned from his position.
His guilty plea initially spared him any jail time, but he ended up with a felony conviction and a six-month jail stint for lying to investigators.
Baumgartner died at the age of 70 in January 2018. 
As you can imagine, the controversy called into question Baumgartner’s ability to preside over the Christian-Newsom trials.
On December 1, 2011, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood ordered new trials for Cobbins, Davidson, Thomas, and Coleman, citing “structural errors” in the original trials.” 
On January 12, 2012, Judge Blackwood denied the state’s appeal to prevent the trials and denied the defense’s request for a change of venue, stating that the jurors would not be selected from Knox County.
Cobbins’ new trial date was set for August 27, Thomas’ was set for October 22, and November 12 was set for Coleman.
On May 24, 2012, the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned Blackwood’s decision for new trials for Davidson, Cobbins, and Thomas. The Court said that the defendants had been unaware that Baumgartner’s misconduct outside the courtroom affected their trials.
The state didn’t challenge the retrial for Coleman, conceding that Baumgartner “seemed disoriented, speech was very slow … he barely read the verdicts … He was confusing the defendants’ names.”
The following month, the District Attorney General’s Office asked for Blackwood to recuse himself before considering whether Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas should be retried. Prosecutors said in the motion:
“The willful failure of this Court to follow the Tennessee Supreme Court’s guidance indicates this Court has lost all semblance of fairness and impartiality.”
Just two days later, Blackwood again ordered new trials for Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas. In doing so, the judge cited Rule 25, which was also cited in the Supreme Court decision. The rule allows the successor judge — Blackwood — to conclude “he or she cannot perform (the duties of the original judge) because of the failure to preside at the trial or for any other reason.”
Blackwood added that he could not serve as the thirteenth juror in the Christian-Newsom case.
In mid-June, during a hearing intended to decide whether Blackwood should step down from the Christian-Newsom case, Blackwood said that he would not recuse himself. He stated:
“I intend to be captain of this ship and to run this ship.”
Then, on June 21, Blackwood tossed out his previous order granting new trials to Cobbins and Davidson, this time stating that he would give the state a second chance to argue that Blackwood should recuse himself from the case.
On August 20, Blackwood once again said that he would not recuse himself from the case. At that point, the families of Channon and Christopher were getting frustrated with the drama. Christian’s father said that Blackwood was only in it for the publicity and should step down.
“That judge is on a mission. I don’t know if it’s a book or movie or what exactly he’s up to. This ain’t about his book or movie. This is about our daughter.”
By that point, the Newsoms had been in courtrooms 283 times.
On October 3, a state appellate court issued a temporary stay in the retrial of Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas. The stay, according to WVLT, followed an appeal by the state after Judge Blackwood refused to step away from the case.
Let’s skip ahead now.
Finally, on October 31, Judge Blackwood was replaced by Judge Walter Kurtz. Kurtz was ordered to oversee the cases of Cobbins, Davidson, and Thomas. Judge Blackwood was set to still oversee Coleman’s trial in November. Only Coleman and Thomas received new trials.
On November 20, a jury convicted Coleman on 13 of 17 counts in the murder of Channon Christian. She was again found not guilty for crimes connected to Christopher Newsom. She was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
In May 2013, Thomas was found guilty of all 38 charges in connection to the kidnapping, rape, and murders of Channon and Christopher. The following month, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, plus 25 years.
In 2014, Coleman was denied parole and would not be given another opportunity until December 2020.
On December 19, 2016, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld Davidson’s two death sentences.
In the spring of 2018, Boyd was indicted on first-degree felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape charges in connection to the deaths of Channon and Christopher.
On June 27, 2019, Boyd’s attorneys filed a motion to hold the trial at a different venue. The motion was denied.
Boyd’s trial began with jury selection on August 5. Among those selected were four white men, one black woman, one black man, one Hispanic woman, five white women, and four alternates (three white men and one white woman).
On August 5, opening statements in Boyd’s trial began. Exactly a week later, closing statements were made. On August 13, Boyd was found guilty on all counts.
In September, Boyd was sentenced to two life terms, plus 90 years. 
In addressing the courtroom, Boyd simply smiled and said, “I’m not guilty.”
You can watch Gary Christian’s reaction to the verdicts below:
Though racism was never mentioned in the trials and was never considered a motivating factor in the crimes, much of the media coverage of the Christian-Newsom murders focused on the fact that the perpetrators were black and the victims were white.
Considering the current racial/political environment we are living in here in the United States, I wanted to point out a few things. These facts come from The Washington Post.
- According to the Pew Research Center, African Americans are overwhelmingly more concerned about violence than white people and are the staunchest supporters of stricter gun-control laws. Seventy-two percent of African Americans say that controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting gun rights, compared to just 40% of white Americans. That statistic also comes from Pew Research Center.
Yes, I’m aware of the arguments in favor of guns and I understand why so many people own them. I am not debating the positives and negatives of guns or gun control, so don’t start arguing about it in the comments. I’m simply pointing out that statistics disprove many of the racial (read: racist) stereotypes about African Americans being more violent than white people.
- The majority of gun deaths in the United States are the result of homicide, not suicide, and 74% of gun homicides can be attributed to white males, per the CDC.
Are black people out killing white people simply for being white? Yes. Are white people out killing black people for simply being black? Yes. Of course, it happens. It has been happening for decades upon decades.
But consider this: According to FBI data from 2013, if you were a white person in 2013, your odds of being murdered by anyone were roughly 13 in a million. If you were a black person in 2013, your odds of being killed by anyone were about 62 in a million — almost five times what the odds were for a white person.
Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom inadvertently ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. If they’d been black, they probably still would have suffered the same terrible fate. The perpetrators of this crime didn’t go out seeking white victims, at least as far as we know. And one would think that if the perps had chosen them for their race, it would have come out during testimony, as it probably would have been something they were proud of.
What happened was that a group of twisted human beings destroyed the lives of innocent human beings. No color reference required.