published Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Tennessee: Case against torture slaying suspect goes to jury

DUNCAN MANSFIELD, Associated Press Writer

KNOXVILLE — The case against the alleged leader in the torture slaying of a young Knoxville couple went to the jury Tuesday with the defense trying to poke holes in a mountain of circumstantial evidence.

Lemaricus Davidson, 28, faced 38 counts including kidnapping, theft, rape and murder in the January 2007 carjacking deaths of University of Tennessee student Channon Christian, 21, and her boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23. The counts were consolidated from an original 46.

The state intends to seek the death penalty if he is convicted. The case has touched a racial nerve because the defendants are black and the victims were white.

Davidson's lawyer David Eldridge acknowledged in closing arguments that his client was a drug dealer, that he lied to police after his arrest and that he had sex with Christian.

Eldridge suggested the clean-cut couple may have come to Davidson to buy drugs, while prosecutors say they were random victims ambushed by gun-wielding men in an apartment parking lot while on a date.

Eldridge said there's reasonable doubt Davidson committed a crime, blaming instead Davidson's three co-defendants, whom he called "the gang from Kentucky." He claimed the prosecution offered a "made up story" to link Davidson to the rapes, beatings and killings that occurred within hours or days of the carjacking.

"This is real life. So we can't tell you a story like you would find on a 'Law & Order' episode ... (that) happened in a nice little package," prosecutor Leland Price acknowledged.

The only ones who could say for certain what happened are Christian and Newsom, and "Davidson made sure they were silenced forever, that they would never talk again," Price said.

But, looking to the jury, the prosecutor said, "You know enough to know ... these were his victims."

Davidson was captured five days after the carjacking in an abandoned house 10 minutes from his rental house, where Christian's body was found stuffed in a trash can. His fingerprints were on the garbage bags around her body, his DNA was in her genitals and his semen was on her pants, experts testified.

He was caught with a .22-caliber revolver similar to the unconfirmed weapon used to kill Newsom, whose nude, shot body was set on fire along railroad tracks about 100 yards from Davidson's house.

Davidson was caught with Newsom's $136 silver athletic shoes. Witnesses saw him wearing the shoes even though they were several sizes too small. Price called them "part of the reward he got for killing Chris Newsom."

Police were led to Davidson's house after Christian's abandoned Toyota 4-Runner was found in his neighborhood and Davidson's fingerprint was discovered on a bank statement in the otherwise wiped-down vehicle.

Davidson's former girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, testified that the day after the carjacking she saw him driving the SUV, he gave her some of Christian's clothes and he prevented her from entering a bedroom at his house where Christian was being held and later killed.

The suspects implicated each other. Davidson's brother, Letalvis Cobbins, testified at his trial in August that Davidson was the ringleader who carried out the carjacking and choked Christian before putting her in the trash can, where she suffocated.

Davidson told police that Cobbins and co-defendant George Thomas carjacked the couple, that Thomas shot Newsom with Davidson's gun and that Christian was still alive when Davidson left his house. Davidson declined to testify at his own trial.

Cobbins was convicted by a jury brought from Nashville, to avoid pretrial publicity, on murder and related counts and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Thomas will get a jury from Chattanooga when he is tried in December. Davidson requested a local panel. No trial date has been set for the fourth defendant, Cobbins' girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman. Cobbins, Thomas and Coleman were all from Lebanon, Ky.

A fifth defendant, Eric Boyd of Knoxville, has been convicted in federal court of being an accessory after the fact for hiding Davidson and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

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