KNOXVILLE (WATE) — In a decision that surprised most court observers, Letalvis D. Cobbins was sentenced Wednesday to life without the possibility of parole.
He was found guilty Tuesday of first degree murder in the death of Channon Christian and guilty of facilitation of first degree felony murder of her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, in 2007.
Cobbins could also have been sentenced to death or to life in prison.
The jurors gave weight to mitigating factors when they deliberated, finding for the lesser sentence.
He chose not to testify on his behalf.
Judge Richard Baumgartner said the jurors’ names and the sentence will be sealed, but he will unseal them some time in the future. At that time, the media can contact them for interviews, but only once.
The judge set a separate date of November 20 to sentence Cobbins in other crimes in this case.
Other three defendants
Cobbins’ half-brother, Lemaricus, Davidson, along with Cobbins’ friend, George Thomas, and his then girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, are also charged in the case and awaiting their trials.
Newsoms: jury let us down
Chris’ mother, Mary, said after the sentence, “It wasn’t the way we wanted it. The jury let us down. They let Channon and Chris down. He won’t be on the street again and he won’t be able to hurt anybody again.”
“He will always be locked up. That’s the only thing we gained today,” said Chris’ father, Hugh.
When asked if he thought the jurors gave weight to Davidson’s role in the crimes, Hugh said, “Cobbins was the one on trial. They (the jurors) said yes during the selection process, they could consider the death penalty, but in the sentencing, they finked out.”
“Channon and Chris were not given justice today,” Mary said.
Christians: We didn’t get justice
Channon’s father, Gary, said, “We are very, very pleased that the families in this community today got justice. Everybody that lives in this community got justice. We didn’t.”
“The jury let us down,” Deena said. “They lied to us when they said they could consider the death penalty.
“Prison ain’t what you think it is. It is a girls school,” Gary said, referring to a visit he made to Riverbend Prison related to this case. “He can go to a lifetime in Disney land. He can have all the sex he wants. He can have all the drugs he wants.”
“Their standard of living went up. He’s got a roof over his head,” Deena said. “He didn’t have a home. Now, he does.”
“They didn’t give Channon and Chris a choice,” Deena said.
“They (Channon and Chris) didn’t do anything wrong. These animals just came up and took what they wanted, Channon’s car,” Deena said.
“His family won’t visit him in prison. Where have they been the last eight years?” Deena said.
“What do you have to do to get a death penalty in this state?” Gary asked. “What did someone do? They must’ve driven a Sherman tank up their butt and pulled the trigger.”
Family surprised by Cobbins’ role
Several members of Cobbins’ family took the stand, saying they weren’t surprised his half-brother, Lemaricus Davidson, was involved in the murders, but were surprised about Letalvis’ involvement.
Several of Cobbins’ family also admitted they had contact with him when he was younger, but hadn’t seen him often or had much contact in the last few years.
State asks jury for death penalty in opening statement
In the state’s opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald asked jurors to set aside their emotions and come back with the death penalty.
Defense opening statement: Cobbins had difficult childhood
In the defense’s opening statement, attorney Scott Green said Cobbins was neglected as a child after being born to a mother who was 17.
Green also said Cobbins’ mother was a “crackhead,” and he spent his teen years on the streets and in homeless shelters.
“Does any of this excuse what he did?” Green asked. “Of course not.”
Channon’s father: not a single day has been complete
In his impact statement, Gary Christian said his daughter had “a beautiful face, a beautiful smile and a beautiful heart.” He said she loved her friends and family dearly and was protective of her older brother.
“The last thing she said to me was, ‘I love you,'” Gary said. “We think about her every day. We think about her every minute.”
“We have sought a doctor to seek help for the hate we live with,” Gary said.
Gary said when he and her brother and others found her Toyota 4Runner on Chipman Street, “Was she still alive in that (trash) can (where her body was found), not 200 yards from where I stood?”
“And nothing that anybody says, not a doctor, not our friends, not even what we say to each other makes that horror go away.”
“I will never get to say yes to a young man and I will never get to walk her down the aisle. I will never dance with her at her wedding. I will never get to hold my four grandchildren she wanted to have.”
“I will forever live with the constant, nagging, haunting thought of my daughter calling to me to help her to stop them from hurting her. Never will I stop hearing my daughter’s voice for me to save her.”
“Someday I hope that I get to tell her that I’m sorry. I was just down the street. I was trying, but I didn’t hear her. I couldn’t hear her cries.”
“We had a thing, me and her. I don’t ever think I parted without saying, I love you. And she would say, I love you more.”
“I hope she knows once and for all, I love her more.”
Channon’s mother: “She was Daddy’s little girl.”
In her impact statement, Deena Christian said her daughter loved her brother, Chase. She was so proud of him. She would follow him all over the country to watch him pitch baseball.”
Channon “had so much love to give,” Deena said. “She loved camping, golfing, four wheeling and hanging out with her friends.”
She fought back tears as she said, “She would never hurt a soul.”
“I failed my daughter. I wish I could have saved her. If I could, I would trade places with her.”
“I know my daughter was scared to death, but I know if she could have, she would have fought back. Gary, Chase and I think about what happened to her every second of every day.”
“You never think tragedy like this will strike your family, but it did.”
Cobbins covered his face with his hand at times as Deena read her statement.
Cobbins older sister: “You may look at me and hate me, but I love my brother.”
Letalvis Cobbins’ older sister, Misha Davidson, could barely catch her breath through tears as she took the stand to testify on his behalf.
She said their mother was 15 when she had her. Cobbins is a year younger than her. Misha said she lived with her Great Aunt Rosie when she was little and her mother was there, too.
Their mother passed away in January.
Misha said their mother wasn’t stable and had problems. “The first problem was, she was a baby having babies. Around the time she was pregnant with Letalvis, she was using (drugs).”
Cobbins’ father lives about 25 minutes from the court room, but he’s not at the sentencing hearing, Cobbins’ attorney pointed out. Misha said she hasn’t seen him in years.
Misha said Cobbins’ father was abusive to their mother.
She said she had to take care of “Tavis” after their great aunt died and any parents were in and out of their lives. They went to 17 different schools and were homeless at one point.
Misha said their mother walked out on her and Letalvis when the state took their home, leaving them to fend for themselves. They split up and he told her not to worry because he could take care of himself.
When she heard Lemaricus was involved in the case, Misha admitted that she wasn’t surprised. But when she heard Letalvis was involved, she said she was surprised because he wasn’t like that.
Misha said their mother felt the same way. She said they talked about the case and their mother believed Lemaricus drew Letalvis into crime. “She blamed herself.
Misha said Letalvis was afraid of Lemaricus growing up and Lemaricus would punch them.
Misha said Letalvis told their mother at one point, “God blessed you with three children and you can’t take care of them.”
The defense showed Letalvis family pictures of his great aunt, his nieces and a smiling Letalvis in Head Start.
She has two children and said they call Letalvis, “Uncle T.”
“I love my brother,” Misha said as she cried. Then she spoke directly to the victims’ families. “He’s not a killer. I’m sorry for what’s happened. You may look at me and hate me, but I love my brother.”
“I know you hate his guts, but he’s my brother,” she said directly to Gary Christian.
When ADA Fitzgerald questioned Misha, she pointed out that Lemaricus was in prison most of the time since Letalvis was a teenager so his influence had to be limited.
Misha said Letalvis always told her, “Don’t worry about me,” and that he was living back and forth between New York, Kentucky, Knoxville and Memphis.
She said their family threw a party at her house for Lemaricus when he got out of prison in 2006 and told Fitzgerald she was okay with Lemaricus being with her children “as long as I was there.”
Cobbins younger sister: Letalvis stood up for me
Letalvis’ younger sister, Laquitta Boddie, took the stand after a break. She said their mother was the “best mother she could be while she was on drugs.”
Laquitta described being molested as a child and their mother refusing to do anything. She said Letalvis stood up for her.
She said at age eight, Lemaricus tricked her into taking part in a break-in to steal candy. She was sent to juvenile court.
Laquitta works as an animal technician and graduated from high school. “You made something of yourself despite your childhood,” ADA Fitzgerald said. “Amen,” Laquitta said.
She blew a kiss to Letalvis as she left the stand.
Cobbins youngest sister: “I never knew my brother would do anything like this.”
Letalvis’ youngest sister, Lakedria Davidson, took the stand next and Letalvis smiled at her. She said they’ve known each other since she was six and he was very protective of her.
“I never knew my brother would do anything like this,” Lakedria said when defense attorney Scott Green asked her about the murders.
She also told the defense she believes Letalvis can be a beneficial part of her life if he’s given life in prison.
“Have you had a rough childhood?” ADA Fitzgerald asked. “I have,” Lakedria said. “Have you made something of yourself?” Fitzgerald asked. “I have,” Lakedria said.
Cobbins cousin: please have mercy on him
Letalvis’ cousin, Lakisha Young, also took the stand. She said she’s known him all his life and Letalvis smiled.
After Letalvis’ Great Aunt Rose died, Lakisha said he was left to fend for himself and he “wasn’t the same.”
She also admitted she wasn’t surprised Lemaricus was involved with the murders, but was surprised about Letalvis.
Lakisha told the victims’ families, “I’m so sorry,” adding that she knew what Letalvis did was wrong, but, “I love him no less.” She asked the court to have mercy on her cousin.
Another Cobbins cousin: father wants nothing to do with case
Letalvis’ cousin, Theresa Hullum, told the court his father was “a nice man” but “he had a quick temper” and has a problem with alcohol.
“He told me not to call anymore. He didn’t want to have anything to do with the case. He told me if I called again, I would wish that I hadn’t called,” Theresa said.
When asked to describe Letalvis, she said, “He’s a quiet person. He’s a very giving person. Letalvis would give you his legs if you needed them. For my daughter to be 15, she’s crazy about him.”
Third Cobbins cousin: another request for mercy
Letalvis’ cousin, Essie Farmer, turned to the jurors and asked them to have compassion on Letalvis and “not to kill him.”
Essie said to the victims’ families, “We are truly sorry.”
She conceded when ADA Fitzgerald cross-examined her that Great Aunt Rose taught Letalvis right from wrong.
Psychologist said Cobbins often hurt by brother, mother
Dr. James Murray took the stand to testify on the psychological background of Letalvis Cobbins and his relationship with his family.
He said Cobbins’ childhood IQ tested at 85, and to be considered mentally retarded, a person would have to test in the low 70s.
Dr. Murray said Cobbins claimed in interviews that Davidson often bullied him and fought with him, drawing blood and knocking him out on more than one occasion.
He also said Cobbins claimed his mother was often high and would sometimes become “explosively angry” with him, beating him with different household objects that left welts for days.
Cobbins said his mother expected him to start getting drugs for her about age 13 and often kicked him out of the house if he didn’t, Dr. Murray testified.
Cobbins was twice kicked out of school in Knox County, he told Dr. Murray.
The psychologist also testified that Cobbins said Davidson pressured him to use cocaine and to take part in a carjacking, but he refused. He said this led to tension between them.
Dr. Murray testified that Cobbins told him he was convicted of fencing stolen goods in New York City, along with being assaulted and stabbed. Cobbins returned to Knoxville and went through the Salvation Army’s Boostrap Program.
However, he moved back to New York, used drugs again, was assaulted and hospitalized for a brain injury.
Dr. Murray said Cobbins may have post traumatic stress disorder and seems to be a hypochondriac and a narcissist, but he doesn’t believe he’s psychotic.
Cobbins had “dysfunctional sexual behavior,” Dr. Murray said, and dealt with stress by “acting out sexually.”
When the state began its cross-examination, Dr. Murray told Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price he found no indication of a mental condition that drove Cobbins to rape or kill.
Dr. Murray also said he believes Cobbins is reasonably intelligent.
State: bad childhood doesn’t equal bad decisions later
ADA Fitzgerald said Cobbins’ life as a child had nothing to do with the decisions he made on January 6, 2007 at age 24.
She said there are mitigating circumstances in this case, but the aggravating circumstances far outweigh them.
Fitzgerald said Christian was killed because she was a witness who could have identified the defendants.
She told the jurors, “The time has come” to give Cobbins the death penalty “you said you could” when you were selected in Nashville.
Defense: put Cobbins in prison for life
In his closing argument, defense attorney Scott Green asked the jurors, “What weight do you choose to assign all the factors in making your decision?”
He told them there’s no evidence Christian died at Cobbins’ hands.
If you put Cobbins in prison, don’t give him the death penalty, Green said, but let him never be in a position to hurt anyone again.
Green said he thinks the verdict will be made easier because of the testimony by Cobbins and added, “Maybe we’re not here today if Cobbins had had parents like Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.”
“Make him suffer every day for the rest of his life until God takes him, making him think every day about what he did and what he didn’t do,” Green said.
State’s rebuttal: Christian snatched from “sweet moment,” thrust into nightmare
ADA Leland Price said in the state’s rebuttal closing, there were forks in the road for Cobbins and he chose a path that led to death.
Price said Christian was snatched from the “sweet moment” of kissing her boyfriend and thrust into a nightmare that went on for “24 hours of hell. No one should have to endure that.”
“That blunt force injury to her crotch had to be excruciating. It was his decision to put her through it,” Price said.
“This case cries out for the maximum punishment that the state of Tennessee can impose, that you can impose,” Price told the jurors. “This crime is the worst of the worst.”
About the jury and the convictions
The jury was made up of six women and six men. Six were black, five were white and one was Asian.
The three alternates were also in the sentencing hearing, in case any of the regular jurors couldn’t fulfill their obligations.
The jury had the final say on Cobbins’ sentence.