Coleman trial moving forward; fate of three other Christian-Newsom retrials unclear

8:32 PM, May 17, 2012   |    comments
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At least one of the retrials in the Christian-Newsom case is moving forward.

Vanessa Coleman, who is charged along with four other defendants, appeared in court Thursday for a motions hearing.

Coleman was previously sentenced to 53 years in prison for facilitation in the death and rape of Channon Christian but was found not guilty on crimes related to Chris Newsom. The couple was carjacked, raped, tortured and murdered in January 2007.

Since then, after a TBI investigation revealed the original trial judge, Richard Baumgartner, had abused prescription painkillers, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has ordered new trials for Coleman and the other three defendants, Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas.

In Thursday's hearing, Coleman winced and placed her hand over her left ear in apparent pain as her attorney, Ted Lavit, argued several motions before Judge Blackwood.

The first dealt with the indictment, or list of charges, itself. Coleman was originally charged with more than 40 crimes in connection with case. Because of the double jeopardy rule, she can not face any greater punishment than she received in her first trial, so most of those charges will not apply moving forward. All sides agreed the indictment should be re-written to include only her current charges. That means the new jurors will not hear any evidence relating to Chris Newsom.

It was a decision that was upsetting to the Christian and Newsom families, who also appeared upset when Lavit referred to Channon Christian as "the female victim" during the hearing.

The next motion dealt with how jurors would hear evidence at the trial. Because of a 2011 ruling in State v. Dorantes, jurors can now be instructed to give circumstantial evidence the same weight as direct evidence.

Lavit argued this should not apply in Coleman's case because that standard had not been used in her first trial. But the judge sided with prosecutors.

Lavit then argued that the judge should dismiss all charges against Coleman, citing a rule that anyone who testifies before a grand jury should be immune from facing any charges connected to that testimony.

Prosecutors argued that, because Coleman testified before a federal grand jury but is facing state charges, the rule should not apply.

The judge again sided with the state.

Coleman's trial is still on track to be held in November with a sequestered jury from another county.

Meanwhile, the other three cases are in limbo after a recent court filing. The state attorney general filed an appeal and motion for stay with the state supreme court, asking that the court block the retrials of Davidson, Cobbins and Thomas, claiming not only that there was no clear evidence that Baumgartner's drug use affected the court proceedings but also that the retrials could set a dangerous precedent.

The court has ordered the defendants' attorneys to file a response by Friday but has not yet made an official ruling on delaying the trials.

Davidson's trial was set to start next month, but prosecutors said that likely would not happen.

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