published Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Carjack-torture-slaying case spurs plan to change law

Gary Christian, the father of torture-slaying victim Channon Christian, listens to proceedings during a court hearing Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. in Knoxville.
Gary Christian, the father of torture-slaying victim Channon Christian, listens to proceedings during a court hearing Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011. in Knoxville.
Photo by The Knoxville News Sentinel /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A state representative is pushing for changes in the law benefiting two torture slaying victims' families but backed away from legislation that would shed light on why they suffered through new trials for two of four defendants convicted in their case.

State Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, appeared at a news conference this week at the home of Gary and Deena Christian, parents of January 2007 torture slaying victim Channon Christian, to announce proposed changes to some laws.

Among those law changes is a move to keep defense attorneys from impugning the character of victims without a hearing. Haynes and state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, also are proposing a law change that would require judges to accept a verdict as the "13th juror" in a case immediately after a verdict is read.

The proposed law changes come after the judge presiding over the original trials for the four defendants in the Christian/Newsom case -- Richard Baumgartner -- was forced to leave the bench amid a scandal over his use of prescription painkillers.

He was the subject of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe that to this day remains sealed in secrecy because the agency's files are exempt from the Tennessee Open Records Act.

Pressed at Monday's news conference on whether he and McNally would seek to pass a bill making TBI's records the same as local law enforcement -- subject to the Open Records Act once a case is closed -- Haynes adopted a cautious tone.

"We would want to discuss that with the TBI," Haynes said.

When notified that it is the TBI, not local law enforcement, that handles most public corruption cases and asked why the TBI should be treated differently than local law enforcement, Haynes responded, "It's definitely something we should look at."

The families of torture slaying victims Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, have long been denied the TBI file on Baumgartner that served as the basis for a slew of decisions that would ultimately lead to the granting of new trials for two of the four defendants in the case.

Christian's father, Gary Christian, noted Monday just how painful it was for him and his wife to hear convicted ringleader Lemaricus Davidson's claim Channon Christian and Chris Newsom came to his Chipman Street address voluntarily to buy drugs.

Testimony showed the pair were carjacked and kidnapped, forced to go to the Chipman Street address, beaten, tortured and raped before Newsom was shot execution style and Christian was left to suffocate inside a trash can.

"There's a lot of heartache," Gary Christian said. "But a lot of the heartache was caused by the justice system. I don't know that we'll ever fix it, but we're going to spend the rest of our lives trying to make it better."

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