KNOXVILLE—Jurors this morning convicted Letalvis Cobbins of first-degree murder in the torture-slaying of Knox County couple Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.
The verdicts, after being reviewed by Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, were announced before a packed courtroom.
Jurors on Wednesday will shift into a penalty phase in which they will consider evidence about whether Cobbins, 26, of Kentucky, should be executed for the January 2007 kidnapping and murders.
The jury concluded that Cobbins had responsibility in all the crimes committed against Christian, however, the same panel acquitted Cobbins of charges involving the rape of Newsom.
Those acquittals don’t mean much, however, since jurors found him guilty of the first-degree murder of Christian, 21, and Newsom, 23.
“I can’t even tell you what all those guilty verdicts were that he read,” Gary Christian said.
“He raped my daughter. He’s responsible for her murder. I’ve said all along he’s going down. He’s just started sliding, and tomorrow’s going to be the nail in his coffin.”
Newsom’s mother, Mary Newsom, said: “We got what we wanted, but we still don’t have Chris back.”
Mary Newsom and her husband, Hugh Newsom, said they hoped that the same Davidson County jury will sentence Cobbins to death, but, “Life without parole would be okay. We just don’t want him back on the street.”
Defense attorneys Scott Green and Kim Parton declined comment as did prosecutors Leland Price and Takisha Fitzgerald.
Surprisingly, just before the verdicts were announced, the Knox County Sheriff’s Office cleared a bench in the courtroom and escorted some half-dozen women and a baby into the courtroom to fill that bench.
They wept as the verdict was announced, and Cobbins repeatedly looked in their direction. However, it’s still not clear what their relationship to Cobbins is as deputies quickly hustled them out of the courtroom and building before the jury had even left.
Cobbins was dry-eyed as the verdicts were read to a silent courtroom.
The jury heard six days of testimony and deliberated about seven and a half hours Monday and about three hours this morning before returning the verdicts.
Testimony wrapped up Saturday with Cobbins taking the stand in his own defense.
The young couple was carjacked while outside a Washington Pike apartment complex and then taken to a Chipman Street house where Cobbins’ brother Lemaricus Davidson lived.
Newsom was shot to death and left along railroad tracks near the house. Christian was left to suffocate to death in a trash can inside the home.
Cobbins has admitted raping Christian inside the house, although he testified Saturday that she offered him the oral sex if he could help ensure her freedom. Christian and Newsom did not know Cobbins, Davidson, 28, or their co-defendants, George Thomas, 26, and Vanessa Coleman, 21, who await trial.
Davidson’s trial is set for Sept. 21 before a Knox County jury.
In the death-penalty phase Wednesday, prosecutors Fitzgerald and Price will try to show Cobbins’ crimes are so heinous he deserves death, while defense attorneys Green and Parton will try to counter with mitigating facts.
Sixteen people were impaneled last week at the trial’s start. A woman juror, however, bowed out after Friday’s graphic photographic evidence of the couple’s rape injuries. Fifteen jurors remain, but only 12 took part in the deliberations.
More details as they develop online and in Wednesday’s News Sentinel.
Staff writer Matt Lakin contributed to this story.