The Knoxville Horror was committed over two-and-half years ago, but slowly turn the wheels of justice. Yesterday morning, in the first state trial for the January 7, 2007, Knoxville, Tennessee carjacking-kidnapping-gang-rape-torture-murder of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, a jury of six blacks, five whites, and one Asian pronounced Letalvis Cobbins, alias “Rome,” guilty of 33 out of 38 counts, including:
· First degree felony murder
· First degree premeditated murder
· Especially aggravated robbery
· Especially aggravated kidnapping with a weapon
· Aggravated rape with a weapon
· Aggravated rape with bodily injury
· Aggravated rape while aided by others
· Theft of property
[Letalvis Cobbins found guilty in Christian - Newsom murders, Posted: Aug 25, 2009 6:50 AM EDT; Updated: Aug 25, 2009 5:48 PM EDT, WATE]
Since Cobbins had initially been charged with 46 felony counts, at some point eight counts must have been dropped. No matter; many of the counts were redundant. (How many different ways can you be convicted of the same murder?)
The jury deliberated for over ten hours from Monday into Tuesday. Today the jury will enter the penalty phase, as it decides whether to sentence Cobbins to “life without parole,” or death by lethal injection. (The scare quotes are because, as any homicide detective will tell you, as long as a killer draws breath, he can be paroled or pardoned.)
The jury that was seated—bussed into Knox County from Davidson County (county seat: Nashville), based on the judge’s argument that pre-trial publicity would have tainted any local jury—somehow managed to have seven blacks, only four whites, and one Asian. That still was unsatisfactory for Cobbins’ defense co-counsel, Scott Green, who insisted that too many black jurors had been excluded for admitting themselves unwilling to entertain the death penalty, in the event of a conviction. (From Green’s perspective, things would get even worse: One black juror, who was herself a rape victim, was so upset by the pictures of rape wounds, that she was excused, and replaced by a white man.)
From a legal perspective, as lead prosecutor Takisha Fitzgerald (who is black) previously argued, the death penalty ought to follow automatically from the verdict. However, in this day and age, juries often ignore the law in such cases. And as as I wrote in March,
DNA evidence ties Cobbins to Christian, but as no co-defendant statements claim he carried out either killing, I give him a 50 percent chance of getting a death sentence.
And that was before I learned that the jury would be packed with blacks, who increasingly oppose pronouncing death sentences even on the most heinous black killers. It would be very unlikely for a jury so constituted to vote unanimously for the ultimate sanction. Should this jury confound my expectation, it would represent a very hopeful sign, regarding the moral fiber of blacks in Davidson County.