DUNCAN MANSFIELD,Associated Press Writer
KNOXVILLE - A jury weighing a possible death sentence for the ringleader in the fatal carjacking of a young Knoxville couple heard Thursday about the warm loving middle-class background of the victims and the poor, neglected and abused upbringing of the defendant.
The testimony came a day after the same panel of seven men and five women convicted Memphis native Lemaricus Davidson, 28, of more than 30 counts in the 2007 attack on University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her boyfriend Christopher Newsom, including premeditated murder, felony murder, kidnapping, rape and robbery.
At the defense's request, Judge Richard Baumgartner told the jury a 2004 report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury suggested "the economic cost of imposing the death penalty is more expensive than imprisoning somebody for life without parole."
However, he said, that "should have absolutely no bearing" on its decision.
Rosalind Andrews, a former federal probation officer hired by the defense to investigate Davidson's background, testified he was one of six children from five fathers raised by a single mother who was a prostitute and drug abuser who would beat the children and relied on an aunt to help raise them.
He was sexually molested by a teenage boy when he was 8 years old, shuttled from school to school, made poor grades, and after his aunt died went to a group home, she said. His mother died earlier this year.
At 17, Davidson was taken in by a foster home in Jackson, where he found support and the promise of a better life. But he was kicked out less than two years later when he was caught with marijuana and soon afterward charged with aggravated robbery that sent him to prison, Andrews said.
Davidson, one of four people charged in the carjacking slayings, chose not to testify.
The victims' families presented a far different story.
"We cannot really verbalize the pain out loud because we would break down," Newsom's older sister Andrea Bowers said, trying to describe the families' loss to the jury.
Christian, 21, was a college senior majoring in sociology. She hoped to work with children some day, and have four of her own. She was responsible; she held two part-time jobs. She was "daddy's girl," her family said.
She was "an inspiration to anyone who ever met her. She could literally light up a room, her smile was contagious. She was truly my best friend," said her older brother Chase Christian.
She had been seeing Newsom, a 23-year-old trim carpenter, about two months before they were carjacked on a Saturday night date in her Toyota 4-Runner in January 2007 by several gun-wielding men.
They were dead less than two days later after being beaten and raped. He was shot and left naked along railroad tracks. She suffocated in a trash can in Davidson's rented house, experts testified during the 10-day trial.
The jury convicted Davidson on all counts, except of raping Newsom, instead finding him guilty of the lesser charge of facilitating the rape by others.
Newsom had "a great personality and loved life," his mother Mary Newsom said. "He was a loving and caring person."
"Chris was not a saint. However, he has never been charged with any major offenses," his father Hugh Newsom said, looking toward Davidson.
"I know Chris was scared to death, but his concern was for 'Channon with a C," as Newsom called her, his father said. "I know that hurt him far more than any of those three bullets that tore into his body."
Christian "wasn't perfect" either, her mother Deena Christian said. But "she was a beautiful young woman and had a beautiful soul." She also said her daughter wasn't a drug user, as the defense suggested in trying to show the couple came to Davidson's house willingly to buy drugs from him.
"The thought of what she had to endure haunts us each and every day," Deena Christian said.
The killings became a racially charged case: The victims were white and the defendants black. Some conservative Internet commentators and white supremacist agitators claimed it didn't get the same attention as white-on-black hate crimes. Authorities said race didn't appear to be a factor.
Davidson's brother Letalvis Cobbins, 26, of Lebanon, Ky., was convicted earlier by a jury brought from Nashville to avoid pretrial publicity. He was sentenced to life without parole.
Two co-defendants, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman, are awaiting trial. Thomas will have a jury from Chattanooga when he is tried in December.
A fifth conspirator, Eric Boyd, was convicted in federal court of being an accessory after the fact for hiding Davidson, and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.