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Redacted Baumgartner TBI file released, Davidson juror speaks out

9:24 PM, Dec 3, 2011   |    comments
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The redacted version of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file on former judge Richard Baumgartner was made available for public view on Friday.

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood unsealed the redacted version of the file during a hearing on Thursday in which he granted new trials to four of the defendants in the Christian-Newsom case.

The original version of the TBI file is said to be about 1,200 pages long. The redacted version is just 155 pages.

Click here to see part 1 of the 155-page document
Click here to see part 2 of the 155-page document

Channon Christian and Chris Newsom were kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered in January 2007. After that, four people - Lemaricus Davidson, Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman - were convicted in their deaths.

Davidson was sentenced to the death, Thomas and Cobbins received life in prison, and Coleman was sentenced to 53 years.

After their trials, allegations about Baumgartner, who presided over their cases, came to light.

The former judge admitted to an addiction to prescription painkillers and was disbarred in October.

On Thursday, Judge Blackwood finally revealed the details of the TBI file on Baumgartner, later ruling that his conduct, along with what he saw as structural errors in the trial, was enough to warrant new trials for the defendants.

The file reveals years of prescription pain pill addiction for Baumgartner, who doctor-shopped, bought pills illegally on the street and even carried on a sexual relationship with one of his suppliers.

Included in the file is a document from a Kroger pharmacy, listing all of the medications Baumgartner bought at that location from May 2006 to November 2010.

During that time, he received 11 different medications prescribed by 12 different people, including a veterinarian who prescribed him Hydrocodone.

That was just one of several painkillers the former judge got from that pharmacy. In fact, during that time period, Baumgartner got more than 2,000 Hydrocodone pills alone.

The file contains interviews with more than two-dozen people, many of whom worked closely with Baumgartner and had concerns about his behavior.

Several of those interviewed described an incident during the Vanessa Coleman jury selection, which took place in Nashville.

The collection of interviews reveals that prosecutors Takisha Fitzgerald and Leland Price were in a car following Baumgartner on Interstate 40 back toward Knoxville.

The prosecutors said they noticed Baumgartner swerving erratically to the point they felt he was endangering other drivers, so they attempted to call the judge, who did not answer the phone.

They then called Jennifer Judy, Baumgartner's assistant, to let her know of the situation. Judy, who was traveling with capital case adviser Susan Jones, was able to reach the former judge by phone and told him to pull over at an exit. Once she caught up with him, Judy took over and drove the judge back to Knoxville.

The file also details Baumgartner's relationship with Deena Castleman, a woman who went through drug court and became the former judge's supplier.

According to the interviews, the judge would often buy pills from her, even visiting her while she was at St. Mary's Hospital, to procure drugs from her there.

The two eventually started a sexual relationship, with Castleman reporting that the two engaged in sexual acts in the judge's chambers on several occasions.

Baumgartner also is accused of asking both a judge and an attorney for favors in her cases along with lying about a drug test so that Castleman could stay at the YWCA. 

It was through Castleman that Baumgartner met Christopher Gibson, a man who had appeared in the former judge's own courtroom. Baumgartner got his drugs through Gibson as well.

Many of those interviewed said they began noticing a potentially serious problem with Baumgartner during the Vanessa Coleman trial, the final case of the four Christian-Newsom trials.

Some reported he had trouble reading the verdicts, stumbling over many of his words.

Judy said that, at one point, Baumgartner put is head down on the bench, and she passed him a note telling him that he needed to "sit up or get off the bench" because he was disrespecting the victims' families.

It was all of this information, and more, that played a role in Judge Blackwood's decision to grant new trials.

10News spoke with several jurors from the Davidson trial who expressed disappointment in the move.

One man, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he was shocked to hear about the Baumgartner revelations, adding that he never saw any odd behavior from the judge.

"I feel that we, the jury, convicted him, not Judge Baumgartner, and to me, it's just, I don't know, I'm just disgusted by how it's overturned, but there's nothing I can say or do that's gonna change it," he said.

The juror went on to say that the trial was incredibly difficult for both him and his family, and he feels for the future jurors who will have to go through all of that again.

"All the pictures, all the things we had to see through that trial, I'll never be able to get out of my mind, nor will the other jurors on that trial, and to think that now, including alternates, 60 more jurors are going to have to go through that and have pictures put in their mind that they can never get out, and the families are going to have to go through all these trials, I'm angered, and I'm just disgusted and just sick to my stomach," he said. "I feel like it was just a waste. My time was wasted, and my life was changed forever, and I'm never going to be able to get those images out of my mind."

No dates have been set yet for the new trials, but a hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12.

Because of the double jeopardy rule, no defendants can face any harsher penalty than they received the first time. That means only Davidson could again face the death penalty.

Check back to wbir.com throughout the day for updates.

 

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