George Thomas' conviction in Christian and Newsom murders means life or death in jury's hands

11:42 PM, Dec 9, 2009   |    comments
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During Thomas' sentencing hearing, the jury heard opening statements before the prosecution called Hugh and Mary Newsom, as well as Gary and Deena Christian to the stand to deliver their victim impact statements.

Deena Christian and Mary Newsom also described their children while pictures of Christian and Newsom were shown to the jury. It was the first time the panel saw the couple with their families and friends while they were alive. 

The majority of jurors were brought to tears as they heard about the UT student and athletic artist who left behind unfullfilled dreams and families who loved them.

Then the defense called 6 witnesses of their own to describe the background and childhood of 26-year old Thomas.

Latonya Eason said her nephew was quiet and she begged for mercy from the jury.

Antoine Jones said his half-brother was tied up and beaten in the basement of their father's home starting at the age of 3.

Jones said the father he shared with Thomas also made them sit in the bathroom with him while he smoked crack.

Their father, Alan, died in February of this year. 

Maria Anderson said she took Thomas to church when he was a teenager in Michigan.  She said he was a humble child. 

As the prosecution tried to establish that Thomas' family did not know him as well as they thought, Fitzgerald asked Anderson about Thomas' child.

Anderson said she knows Thomas has a 2 or 3 year old son who lives in Kentucky, but she did not remember his name or his mother's name.

Arvis Alexander is a pastor and family friend to the Thomas family.  He said the defendant came from a hard working family.

It was at a homeless shelter in Memphis, that Thomas Anderson met the defendant.

Anderson said Thomas was a homeless drug addict who checked himself into a rehabilitation program called "The Breakfast Club".

For the first time in the three trials connected to the murders of Christian and Newsom, a defendant's parent took the stand to testify.

Bridget Thomas pleaded for her son's life, calling him a good boy who did not like confrontation.

Thomas looked at her son and told him, "I love you George."

After the defense finished with their witnesses, Thomas told the judge he would not testify during his sentencing hearing.

However, the prosecution called a rebuttal witness to redirect the jury's attention to who Thomas has become during his time in jail.

Marion Hayes with the Knox County Sheriff's Office is a disciplinary officer.  She testified Thomas abused the rules, had a confrontation with a corrections officer and was not a quiet inmate.

Thomas Dillard asked the jury to consider how the death penalty would hurt the Thomas family.

But prosecutor Leland Price said the murders of Christian and Newsom cry out for the maximum penalty.

After closing arguments, Judge Richard Baumgartner instructed the jury on their options of life with the possibility of parole, life without parole and the death penalty.

38 guilty verdicts gave the prosecution a clear victory in the George Thomas trial.

On Tuesday, a Hamilton County jury found Thomas guilty of robbing, raping, kidnapping and killing Channon Christian and Chris Newsom.

Although the state had the least amount of direct evidence linking Thomas to the crimes, the Chattanooga jury found Thomas guilty on more of the serious charges than Lemaricus Davidson and Letalvis Cobbins.

Investigators found Davidson's and Cobbins' DNA on Christian's body and her clothes.  Davidson's fingerprints were also found in Christian's SUV and on 3 of the 5 trashbags used to wrap her body.

In August, a Nashville jury found Cobbins not guilty on 5 charges related to Chris Newsom.

He was found not guilty on the three charges of Newsom's aggravated rape. Cobbins was also found not guilty of first degree felony murder of Chris Newsom during the perpetration of rape of Newsom, and not guilty of first degree felony murder of Channon Christian during the rape of Chris Newsom.

Cobbins was found guilty of the premeditated first degree and first degree felony murder of Channon Christian. However, for the murder of Chris Newsom, Cobbins was found guilty of the lesser charge of facilitation which means the jury believed Cobbins helped with Newsom's murder but was not his killer.

In October, a Knox County jury found Davidson guilty of 38 charges, but was convicted on lesser charges related to the rape of Newsom.

Davidson was convicted for the murders of both Christian and Newsom. However, the Knox County jury found him not guilty of Newsom's aggravated rape, but they convicted him on the lesser charge of facilitation.

But, for the Thomas' verdict, there were no lesser charges handed down by the jury made up of 6 white women, 5 white men and a black woman.

Defense attorneys Thomas Dillard and Stephen Johnson filed a motion on Wednesday morning.  They want to add to the jury instructions that will be given to at the end of Thomas' sentencing hearing.

Once again, the words criminal responsibility are being brought to the forefront.  The defense wants these sentences added to the instructions.

"The law of criminal responsibility does not apply at this sentencing phase of trial. Rather, sentencing is an individual decision about the punishment of the defendant, George
Thomas," Dillard and Johnson wrote.

Meanwhile, the judge has not announced his decision on Thomas' request for acquittal. Judge Baumgartner could still overturn the verdict .  

Vanessa Coleman

On November 25th, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Coleman's request for immunity.  

On Wednesday morning Russ Greene told Judge Baumgartner he will take his appeal to the state supreme court.

The judge set Coleman's new trial date in Criminal Court Division I for May 10, 2010.

Greene plans to ask for an out of town jury.

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