The Knoxville Horror (Yet Again): George Thomas Conviction Shows Justice Expensive, Agonizing, Grudging In Multicultural America
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Voices from Knoxville

  • Time to hear some more bulls—t.” —Gary Christian, victim’s father, on his way into the courtroom, on Day 1
  • “It kept going on and on. You start to get numb. If it was me, I’d have hired someone to do it right. Someone to shoot him. That’s what I’d do, if it was my daughter.” —Local taxi driver, who’d spent the first half of his life up North
  • “They should just hang him! Did I just say that out loud?!”—Female worker in her late forties, in a local business
  • “If they acquit him, he won’t live two hours…. I’d nail him to a tree.” —Previous lady’s 60ish man boss
  • “It was very unfortunate. We were trying to put it behind us, but it turned out the judge was corrupt.”—Black hotel worker in his late twenties
  • “They should have maybe let some of the local people take care of it.” —Female city worker, app. 55 years old

The Horror

The May 13-17 George Thomas retrial for the 2007 carjacking, kidnapping, robbery, gang-rape, torture and murder of Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, which I have dubbed the Knoxville Horror, should have been a Main Stream Media magnet. It featured a defendant charged with participating in the most atrocious crime the Knoxville area, and maybe even the State of Tennessee, had ever seen. Both victims were anally raped, sexually tortured, brutally beaten and murdered.  Channon Christian was also orally and vaginally raped repeatedly. After shooting Christopher Newsom three times and killing him, his killers set his body on fire. They dumped Channon Christian in a garbage can, where she asphyxiated.

Additionally, the retrial was occasioned by a salacious scandal: Judge Richard Baumgartner, who had presided over the first Thomas trial as well as three other Knoxville Horror trials, was caught buying drugs from probationers under his power, and having sex with one—sometimes in his chambers! Baumgartner has since been disbarred, convicted twice, and entered federal prison. [Ex-Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner gets 6 months in prison, By Alexis Zotos,, April 10, 2013]

It promised drama: the defendant’s liberty hung on the jury’s interpretation of an ambiguously-worded passage of the law regarding “criminal responsibility.” (Hugh Newsom, victim’s father, to in the courthouse: “Laws are written by lawyers. And the largest proportion of them defense attorneys. Weasel words.”)

Finally, there was the seemingly never-ending hell of trials and pain for the two families. This was to be the seventh trial for the same crimes. (The five perps were tried and convicted separately, Thomas and Vanessa Coleman twice).

Family members and expert witnesses are paunchier, grayer, and have less hair on their heads. Knoxville Police Department fingerprint specialist Dan Crenshaw died last year of cancer. Other expert witnesses, including KPD Det. Nevil Norman, were recalled from retirement to testify yet again.

And yet the national Main Stream Media refused to cover the trial. At least, Big Media refused. The only journalist with a national organization who showed up was your trusty correspondent. (That’s yet another reason why is so important!)

The San Francisco Chronicle posted two anonymous AP blogs, both of which were purportedly based on reports from the Knoxville News Sentinel, but which got basic facts wrong, reporting the January, 2007 murders as having been committed in January, 2009, and that Thomas had testified in court. [Correction: Couple Slain-Thomas Retrial story, May 16, 2013] A Google News search for victim Channon Christian’s name finds only local new sources.

 Locally, the Knox News Sentinel’s Jamie Satterfield, the only journalist to write more on this case than I have, wrote a useful wrap-up after Thomas’ reconviction—but repeated her claim that  “racial differences have never been suggested as a motivator for what authorities view as a random carjacking.”

Well, I have suggested it. What else was the “motivator” for the unspeakable torture inflicted on the victims? [Horror of Christian/Newsom killings in focus: What happened on Chipman Street by Jamie Satterfield, Knoxville News Sentinel, May 19, 2013, 8:59 p.m.]

The Outcome (Subject To Endless Appeals)

  • Eric Boyd was convicted of being an accessory after the fact to carjacking in 2008, and sentenced to 18 years in federal prison.
  •  Letalvis Cobbins was convicted of 46 charges, from murder on down, in 2009, and sentenced to life plus 100 years.
  • Lemaricus Davidson, Cobbins’ half-brother and the so-called ringleader, was convicted on all 46 counts, and sentenced to death in 2009.
  • Vanessa Coleman, Cobbins’ girlfriend, was convicted of facilitation of murder, rape, etc., in 2010, and sentenced to 53 years in state prison, to reduced  only 35 years on her retrial, (Coleman will be eligible for parole in a mere four years).
  • George Thomas has now been reconvicted and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

The Retrials

Judge Baumgartner had been replaced with Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, who decided that (although there was no suggestion that Baumgartner had mishandled the cases) he would grant all of the state-charged perps new trials.

It ain’t over, ‘til the black felon wins.

The prosecution appealed over Blackwood’s head to the Tennessee Supreme Court, and prevailed in the cases of Cobbins and Davidson, respectively. Coleman and Thomas were granted new trials; both have now been reconvicted. Judge Walter Kurtz presided over Thomas’ retrial.

Judges Baumgartner, Blackwood, and Kurtz all engaged in mischief, busing in juries from Davidson County, which has a much higher percentage of blacks than Knox County.

Lemaricus Davidson, however, was so pig-headedly stupid—as in all facets of his life—that he insisted on a Knox County jury, which obliged him with a death sentence.

In George Thomas’ first trial, he had been sentenced to two consecutive terms of life without parole, plus a meaningless, concurrent sentence of 25 years.  [Judge stacks prison sentences for George Thomas in torture-slayings,  By Jamie Satterfield, Knox News, March 4, 2010] His defense team of Stephen Johnson and Tom Dillard sought then to confuse the jury as to the meaning of “criminal responsibility,” but (as my friend and colleague, David in TN remarked) the prosecution team of ADAs Takisha Fitzgerald (“TK”, black) and Leland Price (white) “hammered it home.”

Johnson and Dillard would repeat that strategy this time.

The People speak first: “F—k that girl.” Takisha Fitzgerald quoted what George Thomas had said about Channon Christian on January 11, 2007 to KPD Det. Nevil Norman after an interview was over, and the tape recorder was off.

That statement will play a large role in the proceedings. But it’s not exactly what Thomas said. It was “F—k that white girl. She don’t mean nothing to me.”

Defense attorney Stephen Johnson lays down the gauntlet in his opening, saying “F—k that white girl,” and lying about the prosecution, asserting that they had played “the race card”—although Fitzgerald had done the opposite! This dishonesty will be Johnson’s signature.

His strategy has three prongs:

  • Playing the race card;
  • Misrepresenting criminal responsibility (aka “acting in concert”), so as to imply there were no grounds for indicting Thomas for anything; and
  • Establishing that no one had seen Thomas, or found any DNA or fingerprint evidence tying him directly to the rapes and murders, or any link between him and any weapons.

Political Correctness causes cascading failures. The initial failure was in Det. Norman failing to report what George Thomas had said about Channon Christian. Norman’s boss, KPD Chief Sterling Owen IV   did not want to hear about such statements. For Owen, now retired,  the case dared not have anything to do with race. Thus, Det. Norman cut corners with the truth.

The second failure: once Det. Norman came clean, on June 24, 2008, he left himself open to the insinuation by defense counsel that he had made it up.

On Day 2, the testimony of Davidson’s white girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, and her white girlfriend Taylor Shattucks, respectively, leaves no doubt that Davidson was obsessed with having sex with—whether through consent or force—and brutalizing white women.

The 5’2” Daphne Sutton testifies that on the morning of January 5, 2007, the 6’5” Davidson “was putting his hands on me again.” He choked her, and slammed her against a wall. She’d had enough, and moved out.

Davidson spent that day and the next chasing after both Sutton and Shattucks, lying to the latter that he had no place to stay.

On the night of January 6, Davidson took his crew to “jack” a vehicle—and a white woman. At some point between 10:30 p.m. and midnight, they kidnapped Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, and began committing horrors upon them. On January 7, Davidson alternated between raping and torturing Channon Christian, stuffing her in the garbage can, covered in at least five garbage bags, where she asphyxiated over the course of 12-24 hours, and chasing after Daphne Sutton, who would make up with him that night.

Late on Day 3, Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan, the Knox County Medical Examiner, shows horrific autopsy photos of the victims. Much of Chris Newsom’s body looked like burnt meat. The saving grace:  he was dead before his killers had set him on fire. The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Jamie Satterfield reported that “Boyd, who had male pornography cached on his phone, has long been suspected but never charged with raping Newsom.”

 Channon Christian’s vagina was black with blood pooling from the savage beating she’d endured. Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan emphasizes that no number of savage rapes, as opposed to blows from blunt objects and repeated kicks, could possibly have caused such massive damage and excruciating pain. The Knoxville News-Sentinel’s Satterfield reports that Vanessa Coleman is believed to have committed these acts.

As Thomas’ trial wound down, I am afraid that he might walk, due to the defense’s sophistry and the jury’s demographics. But when the chips are down, the People come through. The dazzling, passionate prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald seems to be fighting the judge’s own instructions to the jury, but also emphasizes one helpful paragraph: The defendant’s having provided “friendship and companionship” to the killers is grounds for a conviction.

The Blind Side

Meanwhile, TK’s prosecution partner Leland Price, who has always seemed a bit of a plodder to me, has his shining hour.

Price comes up with a concept that concretizes the principle of criminal responsibility, and makes real the house of horrors at 2316 Chipman Street. We are watching a great teacher at work.

The people who killed Channon and Chris were “a team.” When a quarterback and his tight end combine for a touchdown, that’s not just their accomplishment, but the entire team’s.

Price mentions the movie, The Blind Side. The offensive tackle to (most) quarterbacks’ left protects them from getting blindsided and badly hurt.

All the while she is bound, Channon Christian is figuring how to escape, wondering if Thomas is on her team, or theirs. Several times, Davidson leaves the house, in search of Daphne Sutton, while Thomas remains: “George Thomas was the blind side.”

Thomas’ defense tries to depict him as the passive prisoner of Davidson and Eric Boyd, who “had the guns.” But aside from Thomas’ admission that he had left the house at least twice, and later fled to Kentucky with Cobbins and Coleman, with whom he was eventually arrested, Thomas likely actively murdered Christopher Newsom (see Vanessa Coleman’s statement below).

The second great strength of Price’s closing: his dramatic reconstruction, for the jury, of the scene in that little house on Chipman Street, a mere 805 square feet, with no doors, just blankets hanging in doorways.

Thomas’ team said that he couldn’t hear anything. But Price emphasizes that prior to the night of hell, while Cobbins and Coleman, and Davidson and Sutton, respectively, were having sex in different bedrooms, Thomas could hear it all. Finally, on January 6-7, Thomas hears Channon Christian’s screams of agony all night long, as she is vaginally, orally, and anally raped, beaten, and tortured.

The jury of six white men, four black females, and two white females vote to convict on all 38 counts. They sentence Thomas to life with the possibility of parole, but officially he could be released in 45 years.


Tears flow among the families and their friends, as they and the prosecutors embrace. Considering the severe limitations under which the prosecutors labored, their performance was magnificent.

The Newsoms, Christopher’s parents, respond with measured satisfaction. Mary Newsom says:  “We promised Chris justice, that we would get those guys, and we got those guys.” Hugh Newsom says:

“Oh, I’m sure there’ll be appeals. They’re going to go down fighting…. The jury didn’t know it was a retrial. They couldn’t hear Davidson’s statement and Coleman’s statements.”

(During one of our conversations during the trial, Mr. Newsom had emphasized that the jury had not been permitted to hear Vanessa Coleman [pdf, p. 37] say that Thomas had admitted to her that he’d shot Chris Newsom with Davidson and Boyd).

The Newsoms told me they knew all of the testimony by heart.

During a conversation late in the trial, Gary Christian told

“They did the best they could under the circumstances.”

[The circumstances?]

“The circumstances being the system. The system is geared towards helping them [criminals], and doing nothing for us [victims].

“I haven’t gotten any justice yet in this building. I don’t expect I will.”

When the jury announced its verdict, I told Gary Christian, “I don’t know if ‘congratulations’ is the right word, but it’s the best I can think of,” and offered him my hand.

 He shook it and walked away, saying, “It’s better than ‘sorry.’”

Hugh Newsom, on George Thomas:

“He’s got a bed, free hot meals, free medical, dental. He’s raised his standard of living. He was living in a car with [his girlfriend] Stacy Lawson.”

Mary Newsom:

“He’s got a place he can call home now. We can’t call Chris.”

Hugh Newsom:

“Like I said, I’d give up anything I could ever earn, just to be with him again.”

Gary Christian:

“We’re about to get pro-active, to get some laws passed.”

Deena Christian:

“Whether it helps or not, whether they listen or not.

“We knew when we started, it would be a lifetime commitment.”

My view on the Thomas re-trial: At least he didn’t skate. But he should have gotten the death penalty.

However, California gave early releases to thousands of hardened felons last year, due to the state’s insolvency. And California’s pathologies today are harbingers for America tomorrow.

Add to insolvency, criminal justice Affirmative Action, and I don’t expect Thomas to serve more than 30 years.

According to statements by Eric Boyd’s crime partners that were ruled inadmissible in court as hearsay, Boyd was the fifth murderer.

And remember that, according to DNA testing, there were two more unnamed black male rapist-murderers, for a total of seven. But there seems to be no attempt to find them.  Instead of seven killers sentenced to die, only Lemaricus Davidson is in line to even possibly receive justice.

Gary Christian:

“And I will never, ever let anybody forget.”

Neither will I. Nor should America.

Nicholas Stix [email him]  is a New York City-based journalist and researcher, much of whose work focuses on the nexus of race, crime, and education. He spent much of the 1990s teaching college in New York and New Jersey. His work has appeared in Chronicles, The New York Post, Weekly Standard, Daily News, New York Newsday, American Renaissance, Academic Questions, Ideas on Liberty and many other publications. Stix was the project director and principal author of the NPI report, The State of White America-2007. He blogs at Nicholas Stix, Uncensored.

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