Ambush in Knoxville
Updated: Jul 31
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Channon and Christopher
Channon wasn't happy. But she told Kara to leave without her. "Are you sure?" Kara asked, "he can always just meet us there." Channon took her head smiling. "No, I told him I'd wait for him. And one of us has to keep our word. It'll be a good teaching moment. So you go and we'll catch up after I make him pay." Kara smiled, "well, don't hurt him too bad. He's a good guy." They both laughed. And then Kara got in her car and drove away.
Channon was comfortably parked in front of Kara's apartment building in north Knoxville. She was alone in the lot and knew it wasn't the best area of town. But several of her friends in college had lived in the expansive complex before graduating and transitioning to professional life.
She and Kara were almost there. So Channon was content sitting, listening to music to pass the time. After all her new Toyota 4runner, a recent gift from her parents had a nice sound system.
Three miles away from Kara's apartment, Slim was the man with a plan. In fact, Slim was the man with a house. The reality that it was a shitty little shack next to a waste management compound didn't matter. Slim's shit shack was more than any of the others could manage to scrape together. But Slim wasn't happy. A few weeks before Slim's brother Rome had called him up and wanted to come see him. "That'd be fine," Slim said, Rome showed up with his girlfriend, Vanessa, who Slim liked fine. Rome also had Detroit in tow, a guy he didn't know, didn't trust, and as the three overstay their welcome, Slim realized he didn't much like Detroit.
Now the house was a mess. Porn DVDs scattered all around the living room, cast off clothing and garbage, mainly fast food wrappers and empty liquor bottles, cluttered the floors of every room. Slim paced around the tiny house, shaking his head in disgust. He told Rome to meet him outside. Standing in the front yard, the view is a mixed residential commercial area. Leaning heavily towards commercial. Slim's tiny white house stood as the last in a short row of small non-descript colorless boxes, surrounded and outnumbered by warehouses, storage yards, and construction lots. The neighborhood was a distinct pocket sandwiched between Interstate 40, 2 blocks south and a double belt of railroad tracks, half a block to the north.
Rome followed his brother outside. Slim stepped into the front yard and pivoted to confront his brother. "When I told you you could stay. I didn't mean you and everybody else. You motherfuckers have trashed my house. Daphne left because of this shit. I ain't no charity and you're gonna go get me some money, even if you have to turn your girl out."
Rome held his hands up, shrugging. "You know, I ain't got no money. If I did, I give you some." Disgusted, Slim shook his head slowly, "Call up E and see if he can get that car. You're gonna help me get some cash or you motherfuckers are out. And we ain't taken Detroit. I don't trust his lazy ass not to give us up." Slim punctuated each sentence by jabbing his finger at Rome, then walked past, slamming the screen door behind him.
As Rome called E, Vanessa came out the front door and sat on the steps, listening. Rome said, "yo E !Hey man, Slim wants to know if you can borrow that car again." After a pause. "I don't know. He's pissed we all packed into his house. He's broke and Daphne walked out on him. He wants to pull some licks. Rome nodded into the air. "Yeah. Tonight." "Okay, cool." He hung up and looked at his girlfriend. "He's blaming Daphne on us?!" Vanessa was incredulous. Rome rolled his eyes, nodding, Vanessa glanced back over her shoulder, lowering her voice,. "Maybe if he stopped beating on her ass, she'd stay"
Back outside Kara's apartment, it had gotten dark, but it was still early on this Saturday evening. Channon waited because she was eager to spend time with Christopher. They had only been dating a couple of months, but she liked what she'd seen so far and the tardiness problem could be taken care of later.
Christopher finally showed up and sheepishly crept up to Channon's driver's window. "I'm really sorry, babe," Christopher said, as he tried to gauge how much trouble he was in. She gave him a flat but intense expression. "You should be leaving me here all alone. I could have gone with Kara, but I decided I'd better stay to make sure you're okay."
"So you were worried about me?" Christopher asked eyebrows skeptical. Keeping the flat affect. Channon said, "you never know." She couldn't hold it anymore. Fighting her lips, quivering into a smile, air escaping, and then suddenly erupting into a laugh. Relieved, Christopher moved up close, so they were face to face. "It just ran longer than I thought. It won't happen again." "It better not." Her smile broadened. And she leaned in so they could kiss.
E showed up just after sunset driving his cousin's crappy white Pontiac sedan. Slim called out through the screen door, "the first thing we're gonna do is steal us something better than that piece of shit." E gave him a head nod. "I got what I could get. Anyway, nobody's gonna worry about this creeping up on 'em." "Except that it's white. It almost glows in the dark." Both men chuckled and embraced as they met in the front yard.
Christopher was happy. The longer that Channon wanted to stay in the parking lot of the Washington Ridge apartments, the more he was absolved from being unforgivably late. Besides, he liked spending time alone with her, he thought the party can wait, as he went in for another kiss. He didn't even register the car behind him as it pulled into the lot.
E was driving as he and the three men toured all their spots in north Knoxville. They had cruised a couple of places without seeing anything promising. And then habit took him towards the Washington Ridge where several of their friends lived.
As E pulled a car into the parking lot,
on the far end, they saw a guy standing with his upper body inside the driver's window of a Toyota 4runner. E slowed so they could scope it. And as they approached, they could see what was happening. "That dude's trying to get some right there," Rome laughed.
"Yeah, and that's a nice ride. Plenty of room for everybody," Slim, who was sitting next to E nodded in that direction." Let's do this."
He and his brother both gripped their pistols as E drove past the couple who seemed to take no notice of them. Down the lot E stopped and turned off the headlights.
Christopher sensed movement as a man came around the back of the car. He couldn't see the pistol clearly, but the man stance in the dim light spoke for itself. To his horror, a second man came in on the other side, also with a gun up. To Christopher, the rest was a blur. One of them yelling, "get out!" The one behind him, pushed him towards the rear of the car towards the first guy, who shoved him up against the side of the car near the rear bumper. He yelled, " don't you move motherfucker!" as he held the gun in Christopher's face.
Channon, let out a low scream as the man in the front opened the driver's door and pulled her out. "Shut the fuck up, bitch. Gimme the keys." For Slim, there was a moment of stillness. Slim had a gun on the boy. He looked at the girl and his brother and decided he was taking everything. With the gun still up. He lunged and pulled the back hatch open with his left hand, "get the fuck there." Christopher ,still in shock said, "oh man, just don't shoot us." Rome knew his brother and didn't want to draw his wrath. He thought ' two white people, white kids, this fucking shit's fixing to get crazy.' He pulled the girl around the open driver's door. Slim pushed the boy into the cargo area and told him to stay down as he pistol whipped the back of his head. When Slim moved outta the way, Rome pushed the girl in on top. She softly whimpered every time Rome touched her. But when she saw she was being put in with Christopher, she quickly laid down beside him, clinging to his back. Slim told Rome, "keep him down. We're taking 'em back." Slim jumped in behind the wheel as Rome knelt backward on the back seat, brandishing the gun over the two.
There was clothing lying on the back seat. Rome grabbed two shirts and wrapped their heads. The girl begged him to let them go. Rome said, "we ain't gonna hurt you if you do what we want. We're taking your car and we need money." Christopher pleaded, "we don't have any money. Take anything. Don't hurt us. Just let us go take the car. Let us go. We won't say shit, man. We'll just say somebody stole it and we didn't see anything." Slim yelled back, "just shut the fuck up. Do what we say. And no one will get hurt." He asked them what their names were and they told him. Channon and Christopher rode the rest of the three mile drive pressed together, heads covered laying in the back of Channon's 4runner, their minds, trying to comprehend what had just happened. Christopher could feel Channon's body shaking. They were both trying to catch their breath. He reached out for her. Shannon took Christopher's hand, ferociously, squeezing it with both of hers.
Slim stopped in his driveway and E parked on the street, the three and E parked on the street. The three men pulled their captives out of the stolen SUV and tightened their head wraps. Slim gripped the back of Shannon's neck, ordering her to walk, guiding her up and inside. E followed him, marching Christopher through the front door. When they were inside Detroit and Vanessa who'd been sitting on the living room floor, watching TV, just stared at the group with their mouths agape.
Vanessa looked at Rome who was the last to come inside with a look that said, 'what the fuck?' Rome just shrugged. As an explanation, Slim said, "we're gonna keep 'em here for a little bit, while we decide where to let 'em go." He then pushed Channon through the living room, into his bedroom. E pushed Christopher who lost his balance and stumbled to the ground. "Get up and walk motherfucker," E shouted. He continued pushing Christopher into the second bedroom and slammed the door behind them. Vanessa in Detroit got up and stood speechless in the doorway as Slim ordered Channin to sit on his bedroom floor. Vanessa's eyes met Rome's who again, shrugged and said nothing.
Slim started looking around until he found a sheet lying on the floor in the closet. He cut it, making strips of fabric, some of which he handed to Vanessa. "Give those to E and tell him to tie his boy up good." When Vanessa went into the second bedroom, E had Christopher face down on the air mattress and had stripped off most of his clothing. E seemed angry Vanessa was interrupting. She passed on Slim's order. E took the fabric strips and shut the door behind her as she left. When Vanessa walked back into the living room, She could see the three men were now only partially clothed and Channon lay naked on the mattress.
She watched some of the things they did to her. When she could no longer watch, She could still hear the sounds echoing through the tiny house. She could hear the slapping and the thud of punches being thrown. She heard gagging and sometimes screams coming from both bedrooms. The men were joking and laughing while they did it. After a few minutes, Slim and Detroit, came into the living room where Vanessa was pretending to watch TV.
Slim told her "Couples therapy. Go make my brother happy." Vanessa went into the bedroom and joined Rome in abusing the girl. It only took a little getting used to.
In the living room, Slim told Detroit, "when E's done with pretty boy in there, I expect you're gonna take care of things with him." "Why do I have to take care of this? You had to bring him back. You didn't ask me. It's your mess." With an intense stare Slim stepped closer and said, "motherfucker, you seem to enjoy yourself a minute ago. I don't know you. I don't trust you. And the only way that's gonna change is if I know you took care of some of this business." Detroit reluctantly, nodded taking Slim's gun, "where?" Slim said, "take him by the tracks."
When E came out of the bedroom, slim told E they were gonna need to get rid of the guy. "Not both of them?" Slim said, 'nah, I'm gonna keep her a little while, but you and Detroit take that dude out and get rid of him. Detroit's gonna prove he's a team player. I gave him my gat." E nodded at Slim and shifted his gaze to Detroit. "You ready?" Detroit nodded and went into the bedroom. He found Christopher unconscious lying on the air mattress. The boy was tightly bound and gagged wearing only a pair of underwear soaked through with blood. Detroit could see that the boy had been badly beaten. Red and purple bruises, flamed across his torso, legs, and visible parts of his face.
Christopher's body and mind could not be easily rowsed into the living hell where he found himself. So he curled and writhed to avoid Detroit's efforts. Finally, several kicks to the upper back, brought him around. Detroit made his prisoner sit up, then tightly wrapped and tied the sweatshirt back around Christopher's head. E came into the room and helped Detroit pull Christopher to his feet. They wrapped a blanket around his body to contain the blood dripping outta Christopher's shorts, Christopher moaned with every step. "Walk," E said, "we're gonna let you go now." Christopher seemed to rally moving faster with painful jerky steps as his captors guided him through the house, out the front door and placed him in the back of the stolen 4runner.
When they got the hatch closed, Detroit said "Slim wants us to dump him by the tracks." E pointed to the warehouse across the street. "They're just on the other side of that building. we can go through one of the lots up the street.
E drove the short distance down the street, cutting up an alley to get to a small, empty lot between a warehouse and the railroad track berm. Detroit got out and walked up onto the tracks. He could see no activity on the dimly lit blocks, just the backs of commercial warehouses, bounding each side of the tracks in both directions. Returning to the vehicle, Detroit told E that it looked clear. They opened the back hatch and pulled Christopher out. E said, "you need to walk down the tracks a bit, and then we're gonna leave you there. You understand?" The sweatshirt wrapped head nodded weakly. They almost had to carry Christopher onto the tracks, one on each side to get him there. Then they told him to walk. He took a few feeble steps, but he was having trouble with bare feet on the uneven beams of the track.
Frustrated with the pace Detroit stepped up behind Christopher and shot him in the neck. as the boy doubled over, he shot him again in the center of his back, he crumpled onto the tracks. The boys tried to pull himself forward away from his tormentors using only his arms. E stepped forward and shot Christopher through the back of the head.
Detroit ran to the car and returned with a gas can. He handed it to E who doused the body? The pile lit with a brilliant orange flame and a loud woosh. Surprised by the bright intensity, both men fled back to Slim's house.
By the time Detroit and E were done with their task, it was early Sunday morning. The two men washed and cleaned themselves as best they could. And E left for home. Those who remained at the house turned in for the night, Vanessa and Rome in the second bedroom, Detroit in the living room and Slim in his bedroom doing is he pleased with his prisoner.
On Sunday Channon endured another cycle of rape and beatings. They violated her in every way their minds could conceive. When she was conscious, she clung to the faint hope that the attacks would stop and they would dump her somewhere and she could start her real life again. Yes. Pause you can't. Sorry. No, just gimme a second. I more I'm alright. Okay. You can't, you can't be even close to crying when you, I got it.
I got it.
When she was conscious, she clung to the faint hope the attacks would stop and they would dump her somewhere and she could start her real life again. She daydreamed that Christopher had been let go, and he was trying to get help to her this very minute.
Sometime midday on Sunday, Slim began to think about not getting caught. The night had been precisely the adventure he wanted it to be, but now like a bad hangover, He had to rid himself of its lingering effect. That meant dumping the girl, thinking about what they had done to her, made him think about the guys he knew in prison who had been nailed by DNA. He wasn't going down that way. So he took Rome and Detroit, shopping for supplies. Vanessa had done some shit to the girl, so Slim was confident that he could trust her to keep the girl under wraps. After the supply run, Detroit dumped the 4runner on Glider Avenue. He wiped the interior down before the short walk back to Slim's house.
Slim, Rome, and Vanessa took care of the last loose end. They began by spraying Channon's body down with bleach. They made her open her mouth and swallow some of the cleaning fluid. Then they tied Channon's arms and legs tight against her body, forcing her into a fetal position. Channon was conscious as they wrapped her head in a white plastic bag, then put her entire body in five layers of black plastic trash bags. Encased in plastic, as she was Channon was lifted into a large Rubbermaid garbage can. The lid was snapped in place over her, as she gasped for air .
The brand new Rubbermaid trash can in the middle of the kitchen floor was a monolithic reminder of the weight of what they had all done. After the lid was closed, the four people left the house and never returned.
Slim convinced his ex-girlfriend to take him in for a couple of days. When she kicked him out, he sought refuge in E's apartment. Rome, Detroit, and Vanessa fled back to Kentucky.
The investigation began with the second call to Knoxville police. the first call, the one from the mother of 21 year old Channon Christian hadn't kicked off a massive search because a 23 year old man missing with his 21 year old girlfriend doesn't, on its face, constitute an emergency compared to the rest of Knoxville's myriad, pressing police issues. They seemed to be low risk missing: Channon Christian was a 21 year old university of Tennessee sociology student. Christopher Newsom played baseball in high school, went to a technical community college and worked as a carpenter.
It was the second call that got police attention. That second call was from Channon's father. He gave the same account as his wife had hours earlier, their daughter and her boyfriend were missing. Both families were out looking. He had called the family cell phone provider who told them that Channon's phone was somewhere in the area of north Knoxville, between Cherry and n-Ninth avenue. That is where they found the Toyota 4runner that they had recently bought for Channon. There was no sign of Channon or Christopher.
That new finding was disturbing, indeed. By the time police arrived, it was Sunday night. The vehicle was secured for evidence processing. On Monday the ninth, two significant things happened. An investigator with the Knoxville police department processed Channon's Toyota 4runner. He noted that the car's interior had been wiped clean. This was not a good sign. Several items were taken for further processing in the lab. One of those items was an envelope that bore an identifiable fingerprint. The second significant event of that Monday was that a body had been discovered on the rail line behind 1701 Whittle Springs Road. The shoeless victim had been shot three times, wrapped in a blanket, and set on fire. It did not take investigators long to identify the body as that of Christopher Newsom, one of the missing people associated with the 4runner that had been dumped nearby. A search of the immediate area did not yield any sign of Channon.
The fingerprint on the envelope from the 4runner matched someone named Lemericus Davidson, also known as Slim. Slim was a convicted carjacker, an all around thief who'd recently been released from prison. Investigators were able to discover that Slim was renting a house at 2316 Chipman street in north Knoxville.
The Chipman address was significant because the next street north was Whittle Spring road Christopher's body was found on railroad tracks that ran between Chipman and Whittle Springs. The 4runner had been abandoned only a short distance from either location.
On Tuesday, January 9th, 2007, police served a search warrant at 2316 Chipman street. When they arrived there, they found the front door ajar. A first cursory sweep found no suspects in the residence. The house's floor was cluttered, but held very few furnishings, just a couple of mattresses and a cheap table and chair set. A large plastic Rubbermaid trash can sitting in the middle of the kitchen was the most noteworthy item in the house. When investigators removed the lid from the can, they found the body of Channon entombed in layers of black plastic.
There was other damning evidence found in the house. A few items that belonged to Christopher were left behind, including his driver's license. An empty gas can was on the kitchen floor next to the refrigerator. Channon's body and the trash can smelled strongly of bleach cleaner. And the container was also found in the kitchen. In the living room, a detective found a DVD that had been rented in Lebanon, Kentucky.
From the Chipman house, detectives were presented with numerous avenues of investigation. Slim had disappeared, but his ex-girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, had just moved out of the Chipman house the week prior to the murders. Sutton was the niece of a Knoxville police officer. And she was willing to talk. Sutton said that she left Slim because he was physically abusive. She said that Slim had some guests staying at the house for a couple of weeks. Sutton was able to give their names. They were Slim's brother Latalvis Cobbins AKA Rome, Rome's girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman and George Thomas, AKA Detroit. Sutton said the last time that she had been at the Chipman house had been on Sunday morning to pick up some property that she had left there. She said that Slim would not let her into the back of the house, but that he gave her the property that she had gone there for as well as some clothing and jewelry, he told her that he bought as a gift. Sutton showed the detectives, the jewelry who identified it as property stolen from Channon.
Sutton denied, knowing anything about the kidnappings and the murders. She stated that Slim had stayed in her new apartment on Monday night, but that she had kicked him out when her mother called and told her about the news coverage of the Chipman street investigation. Sutton said that she thinks Slim went to stay with his friend, Eric Boyd, AKA E. The information provided by Sutton matched up with the details from the Chipman house crime scene.
The video was rented by Detroit from a library in Kentucky. A search of Slim's phone records showed that he was communicating regularly with E. During a neighborhood canvas, an employee at waste management said that he knew E and saw him and the cousin's white Pontiac at the Chipman house over the weekend. The witness also saw Shannon's 4runner parked there.
The hunt for five people was on. Police were able to find E first. E said he knew about the crime giving the police graphic details. E further said he was not directly involved in the crime, but had been told about it by Slim. From the contact with E, police learned that Slim was hiding in an apartment on Reynold street. When the SWAT team hit the place, Slim gave up without a fight blurting out that he hadn't done anything to that girl. Detectives noticed another small detail that tied him to the crime. Slim was wearing Christopher's distinctive silver and black Nike running shoes.
The Kentucky crew was not difficult to round up. They were not sophisticated criminals and all gave voluntary statements that placed them at the scene of the crime. All of their accounts attempted to minimize personal involvement while casting all blame on other participants. The stories were valuable in piecing together what happened and who probably did what.
The investigators learn that the ambush happened in an apartment building parking lot. They learned that Slim was the ringleader and instigator. They confirmed that E despite his statements to the contrary supplied the transportation and more. In fact, the Kentucky group said Christopher was last seen before dawn on Sunday morning being escorted out by E with E returning alone a little while later.
The four male suspects were arrested immediately. Coleman was cooperative and testified in front of the original grand jury. She thought that by aiding the prosecution, she would escape responsibility, but she was ultimately charged as an accomplice. Tennessee has a criminal responsibility law that requires a person to report or stop a crime in progress.
Despite the mountain of evidence, the cases against two of the defendants were not as strong as the others. It was clear from her testimony that Coleman was present and knew the rapes and murders were happening. But there was a debate about whether she was a direct participant. There were clues in evidence. Coleman's DNA was found on Channon's body. Her DNA was also found on a broken table leg that was used in the assault on Channon. Maybe the most compelling piece of evidence against Coleman was what she wrote in her journal. She wrote fondly about her trip to Tennessee describing the time of the murders as fun adventures. The second problematic case for the prosecution was against E. Of the defendants, E was the only one who denied being present for any part of it. There was very little evidence that tied him to the crime.
Usually the time between arrest and trial is used by investigators and prosecutors to shore up a case. Evidence is submitted for analysis, peripheral interviews are completed and the gaps in timeline are flushed out. This case was no different. Sometimes defendants add to the evidence as the trial approach. Rome made several calls to relatives from jail, where inmate conversations are recorded. During those contacts, he made incriminating statements about DNA evidence and his culpability
In all, there were seven criminal trials in this case. Testifying about Christopher's murder, the medical examiner said that more than 80% of Christopher's skin was burned severely enough to have extensive blistering. Some of the fabric and clothing he was wrapped in had burned away, but his head was wrapped in a sweatshirt and he was gagged when he was found. A close examination revealed that Christopher had been shot through the layers of clothing. Christopher's body had sustained three gunshot wounds. The first wound to the neck probably caused him to bend forward. The second shot was into his back and severed his spinal cord causing immediate paralysis of his legs. The medical examiner said that neither of the first two shots was fatal. The shot that ended Christopher's life was the one to the back of his head. This fatal shot was made with the gun up against the back of the victim's head with the shooter standing directly over him. The medical examiner said that Christopher's body was lit on fire after he was shot and killed. The examination of Christopher's body revealed that he had been brutally raped, which included the insertion of an object.
There was extensive damage to his anus and internal as well as external tearing lacerations and bruising. These injuries occurred more than an hour before Christopher's death because his body was already trying to repair the damage when he was killed.
Testifying about Channon's murder, the medical examiner said that the evidence showed that Channno was held captive inside the Chipman house for 36 hours and repeatedly raped before her murder. The ME said that the incident was much more than a simple sexual assault. It's extreme. Channon had tearing lacerations and bruising injuries to her mouth, vagina, and anus. Some of the damage was caused by the insertion of a large object. There was a cut on Channon's right hand, but the majority of the blood that had soaked through her clothing and pooled in the bottom of the trash can was from the brutal damage to her genitals. The samples taken from Channon's body were found to include sperm from Slim and Rome, and Coleman's DNA was also found on her body. The medical examiner noted that Channon had sustained beating type injuries, as well as those directly associated with the rape. The examination revealed extensive bruising to her body, particularly large contusions to the head. The expert testimony was that none of the trauma that Channon had adored caused her death. Channon was scrubbed and sprayed with bleach, tied with strips of fabric, and packed into a series of large garbage bags, then put into the trashcan. The medical examiner said that Channon suffocated to death with her eyes open. She had a mark on the top of her head from the pressure of the trashcan lid. The examination resulted in a finding that Channon could have died anytime between late Sunday night and early Monday morning,
Aside from the body evidence, there were several other critical items and witnesses used in the trial. From the Chipman house, the bleach spray, samples of the fabric used to binding the victims, and objects that had DNA on them were presented. Suspect DNA was found on a broken table leg and E's DNA was found on a holster that was left in the white Pontiac getaway car. Two uninvolved witnesses were particularly important. Nicole Mathis, E's cousin, testified that she allowed E to drive her white Pontiac the weekend of the murders. Xavier Jenkins worked at the waste connections business next to the Chipman residence. He gave testimony that E and the white Pontiac were presant at Slim's house and that he noted Chanin 4runner was also parked there
In April 2008, a federal jury found Boyd, AKA E guilty only of being an accessory after the fact and he was sentenced to 18 years. The light sentence was due to the lack of forensic and witness evidence linking E directly to one of the murders. In August 2009, Cobbins AKA Rome was convicted in state court of first degree murder of Chan and Christian and the facilitation of the murder of Christopher Newsom. He was sentenced to life in prison. In October 2009, Davidson AKA Slim was convicted of first degree murder, first degree felony murder and the facilitation of aggravated rape. He was sentenced to death and remains on death row. In December 2009, Thomas AKA Detroit was convicted of numerous counts of murder in the first degree and felony murder. He was sentenced to life in prison. In May 2010 Coleman was convicted of facilitation of murder, kidnapping, rape, and theft in relation to the crimes against Channon Christian. She was acquitted of all charges related to Christopher Newsom. She was sentenced to 53 years in prison.
These trials did not mark the end of the legal action. Appeals are to be expected, but what actually happened was extremely unusual. In January, 2011, judge Baumgardner who presided over the state trials suddenly announced that he was stepping down because he was addicted to opioids.
His decision was hastened by the criminal investigation that was closing in around him. The judge ultimately pled guilty to official misconduct for illegally obtaining prescription painkillers. And he died in 2018. The defendants who'd been adjudicated by judge Baumbardner appealed their cases. The state Supreme court decided that the Slim and Rome cases where there were strong DNA evidence would stand. New trials were ordered for the defendants, Detroit and Coleman.
In November, 2012, Coleman was convicted on 13 of 17 counts for the murder of Channon Christian. She was again, acquitted in the murder of Christopher Newsom Coleman was sentenced to 35 years in prison. In June, 2013, Thomas AKA Detroit was convicted again of kidnapping, rape, and murder of both victims. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences, plus 25 years.
The families of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom were for the most part satisfied with the results of the prosecutions of Slim, Rome and Detroit. They felt strongly that the 18 year sentence for E was woefully inadequate. There was a belief among the investigators and prosecutors that E had raped and murdered Christopher. E had homosexual pornography saved on his cell phone. The defendants themselves had implicated E in Christopher's death, but they could not be compelled to be witnesses against him.
Christopher's body was badly burned, which undoubtedly destroyed evidence. The internal hemorrhaging made it difficult to isolate evidence that may have existed inside his body. State prosecutors had declined to prosecute E in the first round of trials. So federal prosecutors stepped up. The victim's families convinced the same federal prosecutors to try again. Following Detroit's second murder conviction, the prosecutors thought he was the right defendant to approach with a deal. Detroit was serving a sentence of more than 125 years. He agreed to testify against E for a reduced sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 51 years. During the trial, Detroit testified that he went with E and he saw E shoot Christopher before lighting his dead body on fire. In August 2019, Boyd, AKA E was convicted of first degree felony murder, first degree premeditated murder, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, and aggravated rape. He was sentenced to two life sentences plus 90 years.
Q: To begin our discussion, let's talk about carjacking. Slim had just gotten out of prison for carjacking. The supposed motive for them going out when taking a car was that Slim wanted to get some money. So how is carjacking gonna get him cash?
A: Something I never saw in the coverage of this crime was what the carjacking was actually about. So you make money in carjacking, a couple of ways. A, you could have a chop shop or fence connection that will take those cars you steal, part them out and sell them. This is much more organized than what we're seeing in this case.
B, on the low end of the criminal spectrum, you Jack a car, you strip the parts off of it and you sell them online. This is really risky because what you're doing is basically a, either a strong arm or a armed robbery and there's a very low return because you're selling used auto parts online. And this is not a quick turnaround for cash, either.
C. And this is what I think had happened here and what Slim had in mind, you take the car and you take it on a crime spree. You pull off armed robberies, you might do commercial thefts, which means like big box stores or burglaries. and when you're done with that crime spree, you dump the car. In fact, one of the contacts, during the investigation made statements about having done burglaries was Slim in the recent past. These are the kind of crimes that Slim probably had in mind when they set out on that fateful Saturday night in 2007. On a more traditional robbery spree, the group would've taken the car and probably taken any money or valuables that the couple had with them. At the riskier end of the spectrum, they might have kidnapped them to get the pin on their bank cards and make ATM withdrawals. But the nature of this crime is these guys are following a ringleader who is Slim, who's going around looking for opportunity.
And what happened here is that Slim looked at Channon and saw an opportunity to live out a sadistic fantasy.
Q: One of the excuses that they made was that they panicked because they saw headlights coming into the parking lot. Do you believe that is true or made up?
A: From the initial interviews, this is what the group said happened: Slim and Rome saw headlights turning suddenly in the parking lot and they panicked and forced the couple to come with them. I can say from my experience in interviewing suspects, it's very common for suspects to wanna justify what is otherwise inexcusable behavior. And that's what the headlights assertion was. I mean, think about it. It's ludicrous. All of this was because of a pair of headlights? I mean, they're, ignoring the fact they're in the lit parking lot in a large apartment complex where any of a number of residents could look outside or stumble across the crime at any time.
Q: Do you think that they went out with the intent of kidnapping and raping victims?
A: No, I think what happened was driven purely by opportunity. The open ended nature of the whole carjacking adventure Slim was taking them on, if it had been two elderly people, they had encountered the crime probably would have been significantly different.
Q: Why do you think that they picked that location to do the carjacking?
A: As I've mentioned in, past episodes, people tend to commit crimes where they feel comfortable. In this incident, the suspects are scoping for victims at a apartment complex and they probably didn't go directly there. They probably went other places, driving around, looking for where they thought, there might be opportunities to take cars, but in this instance, the suspects are scoping victims at apartment complex they're very familiar with. At least one of them has lived here in the past. They have friends that lived there at the time of the murders. In fact, when Slim's girlfriend Sutton left him, she moved in with two friends in a different part of that same large apartment complex. This is important as an investigator to think about why a crime happened, where it did. In this case, it was location where they felt very comfortable and knew they could find victims in their cars in close proximity.
Q: What you're saying makes sense in that as the crime plays out, it does not seem to be very well thought out.
A: Part of the horror of this crime is the randomness.
Plus the savagery plus the senselessness of it. The perpetrators destroyed their own lives as surely as they destroyed the lives of their victims.
The crime makes me think of the saying that has become fairly well known. It goes something like this. "Never allow anyone to kidnap you and take you to a second location." I looked at where that came from and before I give details, I wanna assure the listener that I'm in no way bringing this up to blame the victims. They did absolutely nothing wrong. Blame rest solely on the criminals, who I hope are enjoying their tiny little cells. This is quoted from oprah.com, "in 1991, retired police Sergeant Sanford Strong came on the Oprah show and shared this lifesaving tip.
If you're being attacked, never let them take you to a second crime scene. Rule number one. And frankly, it's probably in my opinion, the most important, never let them take you anywhere else. Never, says Sanford because crime scene number two is going to be isolated. You won't be able to choose it and you'll be the focus of the crime.
Q: I remember hearing that. I actually initially thought that that quote came from The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, which is an excellent book on personal safety that we'll link in the show notes. What Sergeant Strong says about not letting someone take you to a second location makes total sense, but it seems like it takes a kind of 'what if' thinking and sort of mental preparation before a situation ever happens. And that's not what a lot of people are preparing for.
A: Yeah. The Oprah site went on to describe a situation where someone who had seen that show, had thought about it ahead of time and done mental preparation. Here's another quote from the synopsis of that show, " Eight years after watching this show, viewer Lynn was attacked by a career criminal. She says Sanford's advice flashed to her mind and she decided she had to fight back. She's quoted as saying, I wouldn't go with him. And I said to him at the moment, if you're gonna kill me, kill me and kill me here, kill me now because I'm not going with you. I fought him and I survived." Lynn says he ran off and was later captured by police who found out that he had kidnapped a murdered a woman a week before."
Q: Talk about what parts of this crime were pre-planned.
A: I think the minute they diverted from the plan to simply Jack a car, they were all doomed. All the efforts to not get caught were halfassed. These guys had probably gotten away with low end crimes for years because they never faced the kind of scrutiny brought by a double kidnapped rape murder investigation.
They wiped down the car, which probably would've been fine if it was just any stolen car. Here, the detectives went the extra mile to find Slim's fingerprint process it and identify him within two days. The criminals scrub bleach all over their rape victim, making her swallow some, but didn't think, Hey, I bet she has some of my DNA inside of her body.
Then they leave that poor woman in the trash can in the middle of the kitchen of the house, rented by the guy who left the fingerprint on the envelope inside the victim's stolen car. I'm really surprised they didn't burn the 4runner, as is very common with stolen cars used in crime sprees.
Incidentally, I don't think it helped their cause that the 4runner and Christopher's body were dumped in separate locations within a few hundred yards of the Chipman street house. Even if you take away some of the initial evidence hits with the geography of the area, Slim was gonna be a person of interest in this case very quickly.
Q: Why do you think they left the trash can with Channon's body in it in the house?
A: I honestly think that they didn't think through the order of events here. I mean, think about it. You've got a woman's body in a trash can and you've dumped off the car that will be able to transport her in. They weren't getting her into the Pontiac for sure. It's a tiny little sedan. So I just think that it was straight up lack of planning.
Q: What other mistakes do you think they made that got them caught?
A: Any crime of this magnitude is gonna bring intense pressure on suspects. Slim knew this when he made Detroit go with E to get rid of Christopher, almost like a mob boss. Slim's instinct to not trust the group was right. In the initial statements, all the suspects were tripping all over each other to cast blame away from themselves and onto each other. And in those statements, they basically put themselves at the crime scene.
Also giving Sutton Channon's jewelry was a huge mistake. Maybe Sutton wouldn't have been so forthcoming with police if she didn't know that Slim had passed her the dead woman's property. That piece of this seemed very domestic violence cycle. To me, like slim took his rage out on Channon, over Sutton leaving him and the gifts were the reconciliation or making amend's stage of the DV cycle. Another thing that occurred to me about the jewelry, it might have a trophy aspect to it as in some killers collect trophies from their female victims. The coup de grace for Davidson was he was wearing Christopher Newsom's shoes when the police picked him up. I've seized shoes from suspects to compare tracks found it crime scenes, but wearing the murder victim's shoes is incredibly dumb. It would be hard to dispute they belong to Christopher because it's easy to find a person's DNA in used shoes.
Q: Are you surprised that the police didn't search for Channon and Christopher on that Sunday?
A Let me just say, as a parent of young adults, this is the nightmare, right? Are they just off somewhere doing fine? Or are they really in trouble? As a cop, I know it's difficult for kids who grew up in middle or upper class backgrounds to comprehend the possibility of violence or victimization anywhere near the level scene in this crime.
As a parent, it seems like fearing the worst is our job. Fortunately, that is rarely warranted. When I think about the police response to this crime, I'm reminded of the Mindy Schloss case in episode two. It took a little time to get the investigation going.
As I said, in that episode, without compelling information that a crime has happened, the odds are that a missing adult is not missing at all. When Channon's mother called it's sometime on Sunday and the 23 and 21 year old kids weren't answering calls, but they'd been out late at a party on Saturday night.
This is not on its face alarming, so police didn't immediately respond. But the parents knew their kids and they launched the search themselves. When the parents found the 4Runner dumped, that's when the case became objectively suspicious. I expect that the police secured the vehicle for later inspection and sometime on Monday, the body that turned out to be Christopher was found. Of course the recoveries of the body and the forerunner were what started off this case in earnest.
Q: When they find the car abandoned and the body on the tracks. Do you think that they knew the relationship between the two right away?
A: Yes. Like I said, this is a very tight area where all of this was happening. The 4 Runner had been dumped in what is considered a rough area of town. It also was related to the missing couple. These were facts that were known on Sunday night and I'm certain that any detective going out to a found body in the neighborhood had had an expectation that might be one of the two missing people,
Q: Did mistakes by the suspects make this an easy case to solve.
A: As I'm reviewing this and I'm thinking in some ways this is an example of, it's better to be lucky than good type case. And we all have those. It was like there was a trail of breadcrumbs from the 4runner fingerprint to a known carjacker to the carjackers house that happened to be right in the neighborhood to the body recovery. The rest was just fleshing out the facts by interviews with the witnesses and ultimately the suspects.
One of the defendants Rome was very helpful to the case, when he made calls to his relatives on the recorded jail line and said things that were incriminating about how there was DNA and it was gonna be related to him.
Now, on the other side of this, even in really good cases, there are always unlucky pieces that are missing. When Christopher Newsom's body was burned, undoubtedly, that destroyed trace evidence. And the fact that he had been injured so badly and bleeding profusely probably played a part in not recovering evidence from inside of his body. Another thing is, none of the evidence is definitive as to what Coleman did to either of the victims. The lack of direct evidence was overcome through testimony in the case against E but that didn't happen in the case against Coleman.
Q: It seems like the lack of independent witnesses was a problem in the case against some of those defendants.
A: Yes, and it was tricky using some of the defendants against the others, but that worked out fairly well in the end at least when you're talking about, E. There weren't many independent witnesses, but two were extremely helpful in the investigation. I mentioned Sutton, Slims ex's girlfriend. She basically gave the detectives a roadmap as to who was ultimately involved. And that was, before they knew the whole story. The waste connections employee, the business right next to the Chipman street address, knew E and he knew enough about him to know that the white car was his cousin's car, and he also obviously noticed, the, Toyota forerunner. All of that was critical in placing E and the car and the forerunner at that location.
What that makes me think of is that brings up the neighborhood canvas. In TV shows and in real life police operations, the neighborhood canvas is often considered to be a bullshit waste of time. In this case, it was critical. I've been involved in several cases, including homicides, where the evidence found during neighborhood canvas turned out to be very important. In one case I was involved in, we found a video camera in an unexpected location, kind of up on a hill, above a street. The video camera captured the suspect vehicle leaving the area of a murder. And this gave us the approximate time of the event; it also limited the suspect's, possibilities for alibis.
Q: Once the police identified all the people who were in the house, is the priority to arrest them or get more evidence. You've talked about running wires in cases. Why didn't they do that here?
A: As I was looking at this, I thought about how I would've approached this moment where they pretty much know exactly who was involved and they needed to go get them and what kind of evidence could they get when they tried to do that? I just discussed the holes in the case. You never know where those are gonna exist, so you really want to kind of pre-plan and try and get that information right up front, preferably at the time of arrest or just before.
So keep in mind at the beginning, they didn't know how the forensics were gonna work out. I have a lot of experience running wires, and that means surreptitious recordings. Most of the time that technique is used with a cooperator who is coached in what to say to elicit incriminating responses from the target. The technique is invaluable when a law requires a certain mental state, as in the perpetrator, knowingly or intentionally did a certain aspect of a crime. In sexual assaults where the issue is often providing consent, a recording might prove, that a suspect knew there was lack of consent. That obviously doesn't apply in this case, but I'm using it as an alternate method of evidence gathering. In this case, using say a wire using Sutton against Slim might have gotten details that are even now unknown.
Q: Do you think investigators should have taken longer to work the case?
A: No, I think they did the right thing, rounding up everybody as quickly as they could, to keep them from fleeing, to deny them time, to bolster their stories. With five people, all facing these kind of charges, some of them will start swimming for their lives. which is exactly what happened. The other thing is there's enormous pressure, with a crime like this, to get it solved.
Q: Pressure from the family, the public, or where?
A: Yeah. From the public, from politicians, from, even from police command staff. Everybody wants to know that the people who did this are in prison.
What is the deal with the prosecution's handling of the case against E?
One of the things I saw in this case, and I've seen in some others is a lack of willingness to take a chance on a criminal case. Particularly with elected prosecutors. The case against E was weaker than the three other male defendants. But it was a provable case. The families in this case pushed hard to get E prosecuted. If they hadn't, he would've walked, he would've gotten away with not only being an accessory, but also being the primary perpetrator in the rape and murder of Christopher Newsom.
Q: How could the federal prosecutor charge one defendant in this case when the arrest were all state charges?
A: The case involved interstate flight, but there are a lot of reasons a federal prosecutor could charge a case that might not be obvious. For example, a crime involved in some aspect of interstate commerce, like the use of a cell phone. The families were able to convince federal prosecutor to bring charges against E for two separate trials. For the second set of charges, Christopher's family convinced Detroit to give testimony against E. The resulting second convictions mean that E will never be free again. The real world difference between the elected prosecutor's failure and what the federal prosecutor was able to achieve is pretty stunning. Some of it may just be the difference in risk tolerance between two individual prosecutors. But I think it has more to do with the prosecutor wants to keep his or her job by saying they've never lost a case.
Q: What do you think about the judge who turned out to be a drug addict and what happened with his cases?
A: As far as the judge having an addiction, I wasn't surprised. I worked in drugs for a significant part of my career. Opiates are different than other drugs in that they are widely used in medicine. And that can be the start of an addiction that can take over a person's life. Cocaine really isn't like that you can be a cocaine addict, but it wouldn't have started with a prescription for your back pain. During my career, we were seeing people that had personal problems caused by their addictions that were kind of unusual, for what was traditional in the drug world. From that perspective, I'm not surprised when a judge turns out to have a problem like, this one did. As far as how the Tennessee Supreme court chose to handle it, I'm glad they didn't vacate all the cases.
But clearly they had to do something. So I think choosing to retry the more iffy cases was reasonable. I'm glad that none of the defendants got off because I feel strongly, they're all factually guilty.
Q: There are racial overtones in this case, I think there was even a white supremacist protest.
A: Because the suspects were all black and the victims were both white. There were agitators in the Knoxville community that tried to make the crime about race. There was a KKK and supremacist group demonstration. The prosecutors released publicly that they saw, no evidence that racial animus fueled the crimes. It's difficult to provide motivation one way or another, but the prosecutors pointed positive interactions and relationships with the defendants prosecutors pointed to positive interactions and relationships that the defendants had with white people, including Sutton, who's white.
Q: In the narrative, there's a thought bubble from Rome where he thinks, two white people, white kids, this fucking shit is fixing to get crazy. Talk about where that came from.
A: Yeah, that was simply, a statement that was actually made by Rome to the police as literally what he said he was thinking at the time the kidnapping was happening.
Q: The other allegation is that the media coverage of this crime was suppressed because the crime victims were white.
A: I did a little reading on this. That was an allegation, critical of the media. I found this response, to that on snopes.com and thought it was on point. So I'm gonna quote that here. They said, "it's true that the bulk of the initial news reporting about the Newsome Christian murders was local and predominantly Tennessee where the crimes took place and in neighboring Kentucky. While the case received little or no national, coverage by major news outlets. And this phenomenon has attributed to racial bias on the part of national news media. However, the fact is that only a tiny handful of the approximately 15,000 homicides that occur in the United States every year make national news. And the cases that do tend to attract prolonged nationwide coverage are the ones exhibiting a combination of factors absent from the Newsome Christian Case. There's a scandal, there's a mystery. There are sexual elements, celebrity involvement, shockingly large numbers of deaths, murders of children and other victims who elicit special sympathy that makes them particularly fascinating and compelling to the public at large.
Q: Coleman got the shortest sentence, which I think was 35 years. She was up for parole in 2014. What is her status?
A: Yeah, she was denied parole in 2014 and in 2020. The next time she'll be eligible to apply for parole is 2030.
This whole ordeal has been torturous for Channon and Christopher's families. The families have been very active in ensuring justice for their son and daughter. The victims are memorialized in two Tennessee laws. The defense attorneys in the trial tried to portray, with zero evidence, that there was no kidnapping; that Channon and Christopher went to the Chipman house and were caught up in a drug deal gone bad. The Channon Christian Act now prevents criminal defense attorneys and defendants from portraying victims in negative ways that are not based on evidence and related to the case. The Chris Newsom Act was created in response to the judge scandal. It clarified and revised certain rules for trial judges and how they relate to juries.
The murders happened in 2007 and the last trial was complete in 2019. That's a 12 year Odyssey. However, their pain will never end. Hugh Newsom Chris's father said "our final goodbye to Chris, we embraced him in his body bag. We were not allowed to see him. At that particular time, Mary and I promised we would not stop until Eric Boyd was prosecuted for killing him." Gary Christian Channon's father said. "We'll never get justice on this earth, but I think we got them all the best we can. And that's what I promised my daughter, that they wouldn't hurt anyone else."
If you have a question about police procedure, that you want me to talk about, or I have an interesting case you'd like me to cover. Please email me.
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