Despite being inundated with thousands and thousands of emails, the Tennessee Supreme Court has said that nothing can be done regarding the expected retrial for those convicted in the Christian/Newsom slayings. And, of course the rules of criminal procedure would bar any attempt to circumvent or expedite the process.
The high court has said that justices cannot and will not consider the email petitions received by them, regardless of how many people ultimately send them in. Thus far more than 16,000 people nationwide have signed and forwarded an online petition requesting that the Tennessee Supreme Court, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown do what they can to prevent the convictions of the four defendants from being thrown out for the 2007 kidnapping, rape, torture and murder of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.
Christian, 21, and Newsom, 23, were on a date when they were carjacked the night of Jan. 7, 2007. They were held hostage at a rented house on Chipman Street in North Knoxville, where they were raped, tortured and killed.
Four separate juries found four people — Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman — guilty in the couple’s murders. However, Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood decided earlier this month that all four defendants in the Christian/Newsom case must receive new trials. Judge Blackwood granted the retrials due to extreme judicial misconduct found during a TBI investigation of former Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner, who presided over the four previous trials. Judge Baumgartner was recently disbarred after admitting he had a drug addiction. This admission apparently is only the tip of that iceberg.
Judge Blackwood is one of the most accomplished and well respected members of the bench statewide. As a Senior Judge, he is often called upon by the Supreme Court to hear the most difficult cases across the state. Often these cases involve conflicts with attorneys or District Attorney's offices and in some cases, like this one, even errant judges. Attorneys who have practiced before him praise him for his legal knowledge, fairness, and ability to quickly sort out the thorniest of legal issues. If Judge Blackwood says that justice dictates that these cases require a new trial, then it is from the facts and circumstances that happened on Judge Baumgartner's watch that this remedy is demanded. Those familiar with Judge Blackwood--prosecutors and defense attorneys alike--will tell you, he coddles no defendant and suffers no foolish lawyer. This decision to order four new trials was difficult to make, knowing full well the pain it would bring to the victim's families. But, that Judge Blackwood would make this most unpopular decision is a testament to the power of the rule of law in Tennessee and a strong signal that the law applies even to those who seem most undeserving.
Laura Click, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts said she gets the email petitions constantly. “It's the exact same email, over and over again.”
Click said that while the justices care that the public is so invested in the case they will not be swayed by the outpouring. The Court can only look to the law and to do otherwise would be a breach of judicial ethics.
Meanwhile, Knox County prosecutors have said they will appeal the case to the state Court of Criminal Appeals. John Gill, special counsel for the Knox County district attorney general said that the appeal should be filed by early January.
Click went on to say that, “The Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from commenting on any cases that may come before them. Should the state file an appeal from the trial judge’s decision granting the motions for retrials, the appellate courts will consider the appeal based on the facts and information filed with the court as part of the regular appeals process, described in the Tennessee Rules of Appellate Procedure,” Click said.
Christian’s cousin, Brandon Sterne, started the online petition at http://www.change.org within a few days of Blackwood’s decision. Despite the news from the Supreme Court, the petition drive has not stopped; as of last count there 18,155 signatures.
| Channon Christian & Chris Newsom|
- “Tennessee court system says Christian/Newsom petition in vain,” by Matt Lakin, published at KnoxNews.com.