KNOXVILLE (WATE) — A loud gasp was uttered in the courtroom Friday when the first death penalty sentence was read by the jury foreman as LeMaricus Devall Davidson was given four death penalty sentences for the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
The jurors unanimously found Davidson, 28, should receive the death penalty on the four called capital charges. Those are for the two first degree felony murder charges and the two premeditated first degree murders of Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, in January 2007.
The jury got the case at 10:24 a.m. and reached a decision just before 2:30 p.m.
Jurors found a long list of aggravating factors, including the torture of the victims and their ability to identify the defendant, outweighed all mitigating circumstances brought by the defense.
After the sentences were read, Judge Richard Baumgartner said to Davidson, “The state imposes the penalty of death by lethal injection. May you find peace with your maker.”
Davidson was found guilty Wednesday of all the murder charges of Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, in January 2007.
Prosecutors sought called members of the victims’ families to the stand Thursday to give their impact statements as they sought the death penalty.
However, the defense had hoped he would receive life in prison (with the possibility of parole after 51 years), or life in prison without parole instead.
Davidson was also found guilty of especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape and theft in this case.
The jury found Davidson guilty of the lesser charge of facilitating Newsom’s rapes, rather than raping Newsom himself.
Davidson was found guilty of raping Christian.
He’s now the 90th person sent to Tennessee’s death row, but he’s only the second to be put there with four death sentences.
The jury was given extra security to leave the court Friday afternoon.
Victims’ families thank jury
“The Christians and the Newsoms got justice today,” said Channon Christian’s mother, Deena, as the families’ press conference started.
“I finally get to go see her (my daughter) and tell her, one down,” said Channon’s father, Gary, referring to a promise he made to his daughter to get justice for her kidnapping, torture and murder.
Chris Newsom’s father, Hugh, said the jury, which is from Knox County, is “the pillars of our community” and a round of applause by the families followed.
When asked what they thought of Davidson’s attorneys already seeking a mistrial, Deena said, “He’s been crying since day one. Let him cry.”
“I respect this court. I respect this jury, but I do not have to respect a couple of individuals because the court made them do something,” Gary said, referring to defense attorneys David Eldridge and Doug Trant, “for attacking their son (as he looked at the Newsoms) and our daughter.”
“There is no vindication in this,” Gary said.
Hugh Newsom said Davidson “not one time” showed remorse for his actions during the trial.
Gary Christian asked the “thousands and thousands of people praying for them to pray for the jury. I know it was hard for them to do.”
The death penalty “just makes it easier to go on,” Deena said. “This made a dent in it,” Gary added.
“We got justice despite the system,” Deena said.
Hugh Newsom said after the other trials in this case was over, he wants to sit down with all the media and set the record straight on the reprimand they received during the testimony phase of this trial for an exchange with a defense attorney.
Hugh said they “weren’t the instigators.” Gary Christian said with a laugh that he didn’t know if he would wait that long.”
State’s closing: No excuses for Davidson’s actions
Prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald told the jury Friday morning that Davidson had a tough life, but “it does not excuse what he did. Life is about opportunities and decisions you make.”
“So what if he had a bad childhood, a crack addicted mother? You still have choices,” Fitzgerald said. “Just obey the rules, Mr. Davidson,” she says, “but he doesn’t. He won’t.”
Davidson had an opportunity at age 16 to turn his life around in the care of a loving foster family.
His foster parents don’t abandon him, even in prison, Fitzgerald told the jury. “What does he do after six years in prison for aggravated robbery? “He comes to Knoxville to sell dope.”
At the end, Chris Newsom had only his life left, but “he (Davidson)took that,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald said also Christian gave Davidson some of her trust when she told him she wanted to live. “She didn’t want to die.”
Then Fitzgerald said, “He didn’t have to kill her.”
She also said at the end of their lives, all Newsom and Christian had was that they could identify their attackers.
“A rough early life does not excuse what you do at 26 when you take the lives of two young kids,” Fitzgerald said.
Defense’s closing: Please spare his life
Defense attorney Doug Trant began his closing argument by saying, Davidson had a horrible childhood, “and it’s not an excuse, but an explanation” on how he got here.
“Why would you sentence him to life without parole?” Trant asked. He pointed to the Rudd family, took Davidson in as their foster son. “Consider that heavily.”
Trant reminded the jury of Dr. Peter Brown’s statement Thursday in his testimony. “He (Davidson) knows right from wrong when he’s sober” and not on a cocktail of drugs.
Trant told the jury he knows they don’t want to make the decision about Davidson’s sentence, “but it has to be done.”
“I’m going to ask you to spare his life,” Trant said. “Please, I’m begging you to do the right thing.”
“Do you think this will be the last death penalty in this case,” one of the media asked. “We hope so, but we don’t know,” Deena said.
State’s rebuttal closing: Crimes overwhelm all other factors
Prosecutor Leland Price told the jury Davidson could have used his Aunt Rose as inspiration “but he didn’t.”
“Use your common sense. Davidson had people who tried to help him,” Price said, referring to the Rudd family. “He had every opportunity in the world.”
“The aggravating circumstances are overwhelming beyond the shadow of a doubt,” Price said.
Think of the suffering those kids went through, Price said. “You know the physical suffering. Think about the mental anguish.”
“Heinous, atrocious and cruel doesn’t begin to describe what they went through,” Price said.
“Why were they killed,” Price asked? “They knew too much.”
Price said Newsom’s family didn’t get to have funeral with an open casket because his body was so mutilated.
“Why burn Newsom’s body? Why did they mutilate his body?” Price asked. “They left him there for the whole world to see along those railroad tracks.”
“These weren’t just murders,” Price said. “These crimes cry out for the maximum penalty. Give us justice.”