Saturday, August 09, 2014

In Knoxville Horror Retrial, Vanessa Coleman Gets 35-Year Sentence

Re-posted by Nicholas Stix


Coleman Receives 35-Year Sentence
Verdict means she could get out in six more years
By Jamie Satterfield
9:16 PM, Feb 1, 2013
9:20 PM, Feb 1, 2013
Knoxville News Sentinel

In less than six years, a woman convicted of helping carry out a January 2007 torture slaying could go free.

Senior Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood on Friday sentenced Vanessa Coleman to a 35-year prison term for her role in the kidnapping, rape and slaying of Channon Christian, 21. Coleman was convicted of facilitating those crimes in November in what was her second trial in the case.

At the first, she was acquitted of any role in similar crimes committed against Christian's boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23, and was not retried in his slaying as a result.

Under Tennessee law, Coleman must serve one-third of her sentence before she is eligible for parole. She has already served six years behind bars, leaving a balance of less than six more years before she would become eligible for a parole hearing. There is no guarantee, however, that she would be granted parole, and the families of Christian and Newsom on Friday vowed to fight any early release of Coleman.

Coleman had received a 53-year sentence after her first trial — headed up by a judge who would later resign in disgrace amid a pill scandal. Because that now-former judge, Richard Baumgartner, admitted he was high on Xanax, a sedative, during Coleman's trial, the state conceded she was due a new one.

In that second trial, a Jackson, Tenn., jury cut Coleman a break on some of the lesser charges, which meant she no longer qualified for the 53-year sentence and, at most, faced 49 years.

Calling the torture slayings "the most horrible" murder case he had seen, Blackwood sentenced Coleman to the maximum prison terms of 25 years on the facilitation of Christian's slaying, six years as a facilitator of kidnapping and four years as a facilitator of rape. He stacked those three sentences one onto the other but declined to add more time for the three distinct acts of rape Christian endured.

Blackwood was bound in his legal decision-making to a set of factors prescribed by law and known as aggravators that tend to support harsh punishment and mitigators that call for leniency.

Prosecutor Leland Price urged Blackwood to consider as an aggravating factor the "exceptional cruelty" Christian suffered. Defense attorney Ted Lavit argued Coleman was a scared 18-year-old girl trapped inside the Chipman Street house where the couple were initially held captive with the real killers — her boyfriend, Letalvis Cobbins, his brother, Lemaricus Davidson, and Cobbins' pal, George Thomas.

Although Blackwood said Coleman's "youth" and lack of criminal history supported a lesser sentence, he opined those mitigating factors were outweighed by the fact that Coleman did nothing to stop the atrocities Christian suffered.

"The psychological torture of this unfortunate victim was immense," he said.

Thomas also has been granted a new trial because of the Baumgartner scandal, though a trial date has not yet been set. Senior Judge Walter
Kurtz has refused, however, to grant Davidson and Cobbins new trials.

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