KNOXVILLE (WATE) – A jury found Vanessa Coleman guilty Thursday on lesser charges in the Christian-Newsom murders case. By acquitting her on the first degree murder charges she faced, the possibility of the death penalty was removed.
Coleman, 21, was convicted of facilitating the first degree murder, kidnapping, rape and theft of Channon Christian.
She was found not guilty of the counts of murdering, kidnapping or raping Christian’s boyfriend, Chris Newsom.
Christian and Newsom were carjacked, raped and killed in January 2007.
Coleman cried as the verdicts were read. Afterward she smiled and patted her attorneys on the back.
The victims’ families refused to stand as the jury, selected from Davidson County due to pre-trial publicity, left the court room.
Coleman will be sentenced for these convictions in a hearing on July 30.
How Coleman compares to others in this case
Vanessa Coleman is the only person charged with the murders of Christian and Newsom who wasn’t convicted and subject to a hearing for a possible death sentence.
Her ex-boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins, was convicted of Christian’s murder and sentenced to life without parole onAugust 26, 2009.
Cobbins’ half brother, LeMaricus Davidson, who rented the house where Christian’s body was found, was convicted of murdering Christian and Newsom and sentenced to the death penalty on October 30, 2009.
Cobbins’ friend, George Thomas, was convicted of murdering Christian and Newsom and sentenced to life without parole on December 10, 2009.
Victims’ families upset by verdict
Chris Newsom’s mother, Mary, said she felt the jury didn’t pay any attention to criminal responsibility or the evidence presented by the prosecution in this case.
Hugh Newsom, Chris’ father, said Coleman needs to spend a lot more time than her possible prison sentence. He also said he felt the jury had a “vendetta” not to give Coleman the maximum sentences.
The Newsoms said they’ll never have any closure or any peace.
“We’ve never had a good outcome with a jury from Nashville. We don’t have any place to go. We’ve been cheated,” Hugh Newsom said. He added that he felt the jurors were “incompetent.”
Mary Newsom said when Coleman smiled after the verdicts, she looked like “she got away with something.”
Channon Christian’s mother, Deena, said she thought the verdicts showed, “It’s easy to get away with murder in Nashville,” but she admitted she was “shocked” by the decision.
Gary Christian, Channon’s father, said the verdicts were “a joke.”
When asked if they thought the jurors being from Davidson County instead of Knox County got Coleman convicted on lesser charges, Deena said, “I agree wholeheartedly. They didn’t care.”
Gary Christian said their next step is “the next trial, one way or another.”
They hope for consecutive sentences for Coleman, Deena said.
The Christians said they have “no closure.”
“I don’t feel anymore. I feel less every day,” Gary said.
Defense attorneys unsure of appeal
Defense attorney Theodore Lavit said he felt the state didn’t meet its complete burden of proof in this case.
He also admitted he thought the jury would be deadlocked and he would do better in a retrial.
Coleman’s other defense attorney, Russ Greene, said he felt the jury was very competent and attentive to detail.
Lavit practices in Lebanon, Kentucky, near where Coleman’s family is from. They hired him to represent her.
Greene is a Knoxville attorney who was appointed to the case.
Jury deliberated 12 hours
The verdict came in the second day of deliberations after a total of about 12 hours.
Jurors deliberated for about eight hours Wednesday before ending for the day.
After about two and a half hours Wednesday morning, the jurors asked if criminal responsibility was a factor in all the charges.
Judge Richard Baumgartner referred to page seven in the jury charge which says a person is criminally responsible if her conduct contributes to the offense.
Around 5:00 p.m. Wednesday, the jurors asked the judge for a definition of perpetration. He told them he can’t provide them with a definition, and they must use the common definition as they understand it.
Thursday was the ninth day of Coleman’s trial.
The jurors were sequestered during the trial. They were taken back to Nashville Thursday afternoon.
Impact statements rehearsed but not needed
The families of the victims, Channon Christian and her boyfriend, Chris Newsom, rehearsed the readings of their impact statements on Wednesday afternoon.
The statements were not heard by the jurors because Coleman was not convicted on a crime that carried the possibility of a death sentence.
Channon Christian’s mother, Deena, said during her statement, “Our kids were the victims of a horrific senseless crime. There’s a hole in our hearts that will never be filled.”
Deena also said she hopes Channon can forgive her some day for not being able to protect her.
Channon’s father, Gary, said, “I was proud to be her father. Channon was born 24 years ago and on that day I learned the meaning of joy.”
Gary added that Channon never let him or her mother down.
He said he failed her when he couldn’t find her as she went missing after she and Chris were carjacked on January 6, 2007. “When this is all over, I’ll still have the pain. It won’t go away.”
Chris’ older sister, Debbie, read a statement, calling the killers “the Chipman Street gang.”
She said sometimes when she wakes up, it’s hard to remember the sound of Chris’ voice, but she talked about loving him as the baby of the family and how much his nieces and nephews adored him.
Debbie also said her parents have never been the same since Chris was brutally raped, tortured and murdered.
Chris’ mother, Mary, said in her statement, I miss his sense of humor. My life will never be the same.”
In his statement, Chris’ father, Hugh, said, “His (Chris’) room is pretty much as he left it, but without him it’s empty.”
He said Chris’ grandmother had a stroke shortly after his death, but she kept a close eye on a picture of Chris in her room at the nursing home, and some nurses got in trouble for moving it.
Even though Chris was scared as he was about to be killed, Hugh said he knew his last thoughts were of Channon and not being able to help her.
Hugh said he would give all the money he has and all he will earn to tell Chris how much he loves him.
“No one can hurt Chris Newsom anymore. Chris is safe at home,” his father said, referring to the game of baseball his son loved to play.