Christian/Newsom trial: Cobbins testifies, didn’t know victim’s first names.
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“He’s sorry, but he thought Newsom’s first name was Hodge.”
KNOXVILLE (WATE) — Against the advice of his attorneys, Letalvis Cobbins testified on his own behalf Saturday saying the rape of Channon Christian he has pleaded guilty to was actually a voluntary act in exchange for his help to escape. Although he said he accepted her offer, he admitted that he never helped her.
The jurors were given the case at 4:50 p.m. They’re taking Sunday off. They’ll begin deliberating at 9:00 a.m. Monday.
Judge Richard Baumgartner read 128 pages of instructions to the jurors when he charged them with the case.
The jurors have 38 counts to consider in this case, including 18 counts of murder. They must reach a verdict on each one.
Cobbins is the first of four suspects to be tried for the carjacking, rapes and murders of Christian and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, in 2007.
The other suspects who are charged are: Lemaricus Duvall Davidson (Cobbins’ half brother), George Giovanni Thomas and Vanessa Coleman, who was Cobbins’ girlfriend.
All four defendants could face the death penalty if they’re convicted in their separate trials.
Cobbins claims Christian offered sex in exchange for help
Before Cobbins began, Judge Baumgartner dismissed a motion by his two attorneys to withdraw from representing him.
Also, one juror was replaced by an alternate before testimony started.
Cobbins was previously sworn in during this trial so he took the stand under oath.
He said he and Coleman and Thomas came from Kentucky to celebrate New Year’s 2007 with his brother, Lemaricus Davidson, who he hadn’t seen in years.
Davidson had been in and out of prison for years, Cobbins said.
He testified that Davidson wanted to introduce him to a girl he was going to take him to meet.
Cobbins said Eric Boyd, who’s previously been convicted and sentenced as an accessory in this case, met them to go along.
Cobbins said they were smoking marijuana, which he called blunts. He said the one he was given to smoke was a wet blunt and he thought it tasted funny, but he didn’t know why.
Once they arrived as Washington Ridge Apartments, Cobbins said they spotted Christian and Newsom hugging or kissing. He said that’s when Davidson and Boyd jumped out and carjacked them.
Cobbins said he didn’t know they were going to do this and tried to refuse to be part of it, but Davidson told him to follow them back to Davidson’s house on Chipman Street. That’s where Christian’s body was found three days later.
Eventually, Christian and Newsom were brought back to the Chipman Street house and all four suspects were there. Cobbins said he told Thomas and Coleman they should leave because of what was going on, but that never happened.
Cobbins said Christian and Newsom were brought into the house blindfolded and bound. He said Christian was sitting in the living room and he brought her some water. He also said the wet blunt he smoked was making him feel sick.
He repeatedly said he told Davidson what they were doing was crazy and “ya’ll trippin.”
Cobbins said Davidson called everyone into the living room and told them they were being too quiet and demanded to know what they were doing.
Cobbins said he told Davidson they were going to leave. That’s when he said Davidson pulled a gun without pointing it at anyone and told them he’d shoot them, but not kill them, if they tried to leave.
Cobbins said he decided he had no choice but to stay so he sat down. He and Coleman smoked more pot.
Cobbins said Christian was taken to a bedroom and tied up on the bed. He said he brought her more water and untied some of her bindings so she could drink.
He said Christian asked him what was going on and he said he didn’t know. He said she also asked if he knew where her boyfriend was and he said he didn’t know.
Cobbins said Christian asked him if he could talk Davidson into letting her go. He told her that he would try. He said she told him she’d do anything and even offered oral sex. He accepted her offer and heard noises that concerned him as he ejaculated.
(At this point, Christian’s mother, Deena, restrained her father, Gary.)
Cobbins said he put Christian back like he’d found her and went back into the living room with Coleman.
He said Davidson and Thomas came back into the house for awhile, left about half an hour later, then returned again later.
Cobbins said he noticed dark stains on Davidson’s and Thomas’ shirts after they came back the second time.
Cobbins said Davidson would tell him stories when they were growing up about carjacking people, then taking them to an ATM, making them withdraw money and leaving them tied up. So he said he thought Newsom was tied up somewhere. Saturday night ended.
He said Sunday started with a guy showing up at the house to get drugs from Davidson, but he didn’t stay long.
Then he said Davidson’s girlfriend, Daphne Sutton, came to get her things. He said Davidson had called and told her do to this.
Cobbins said Davidson and Sutton got into an argument. He said later, Davidson gave Coleman some clothes that turned out to be Christian’s.
Cobbins said Davidson brought Christian into the kitchen. She had no clothes on from the waist down.
He said Davidson called everyone into the kitchen, then tried to choke Christian, who fell to the floor.
Cobbins said he asked Davidson again what’s he doing and tells him that he’s “trippin.”
“I didn’t do anything to stop it,” Cobbins said. “I didn’t do anything to stop it.”
Cobbins said Davidson tried to force Coleman to check Christian’s pulse, but she said she didn’t know how to do it, that she wasn’t a nurse.
He said he spoke to Thomas again of trying to leave, but Davidson threatened them.
Cobbins said Davidson tied Christian up in a fetal position, then he broke down in tears for a moment. He said Davidson put Christian in the trash can and made everyone else go into another room.
“After it got daylight,” Cobbins said, Davidson left and the rest of them left the Chipman Street house on foot.
He said they went to the house of Vincent Wernimont, who got drugs from Davidson, told him what happened and they talked about what to do. He said they stayed at the house of a drug addict, then later got a ride back to Kentucky.
Cobbins said he called his mother and told her what happened. She asked him why he didn’t call the police or try to stop it. He told her that he couldn’t and didn’t know what to do.
He said he called his mother and sister again later and learned his and Davidson’s pictures were on the news as wanted in connection to the murders.
Cobbins said they connected to his cousin on a three way call who told him that he’d be implicated in the crimes. His family told him they’d get attorneys and he decided to call the police from a pay phone the next day to tell them what happened.
He said he asked Thomas’ girlfriend, Stacey Lawson, who testified earlier in this trial, to lie and say they came back to Kentucky with her, before New Year’s, but she refused to lie to the police. Lawson also testified that she refused to lie.
Cobbins said they were arrested the next day and when he was questioned, “I didn’t tell the truth. I told parts of the truth.”
He said he lied because what had been done was horrible and “I wanted to distance myself.”
Cobbins said he denied more than once that he had sex with Christian and even after a cigarette break, he still lied about what happened.
“I sit here in front of ya’ll today and admit I lied repeatedly about what happened. You all are probably wondering, why should you believe me now when I lied to the police so many times?”
“I don’t have nothing to lose. My DNA was on that girl. I didn’t have any knowledge of what was going to happen. I didn’t want to be a part of it.”
Cobbins said he’s not asking the jury to disregard what he did because “I’m wrong for that” and “I deserve to be punished.” Then he told the families he’s sorry.
Cobbins’ attorneys didn’t ask him any questions while he was on the stand.
The defense rested its case after Cobbins testified.
Cobbins said he pleaded to rape because “it was wrong”
On cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Takisha Fitzgerald, Cobbins admitted he didn’t know the victims’ first names. He finally said he guessed Christian’s first name was Channon, but he thought Newsom’s first name was Hodge.
Cobbins told the ADA that Davidson and Boyd were going to introduce him to a girl that night of the carjacking so he lied to Coleman about where they were going.
Cobbins claimed he didn’t know Boyd and didn’t know about his previous criminal record.
He insisted he didn’t know Davidson and Boyd were going to carjack Christian and Newsom until he saw them run to the truck where the couple was hugging or kissing with guns drawn.
He said Christian drove the carjacked vehicle and he couldn’t tell if she and Newsom were crying or looked scared.
Cobbins said, like he did previously, that Davidson told him to follow them back to the Chipman Street house. He claimed not being familiar with the area since he’s not from Knoxville so he didn’t know how to get back on his own.
Fitzgerald asked Cobbins if he recalled telling Detective Norman during questioning that different people were in the carjacked vehicles, including Thomas.
Cobbins said he didn’t recall saying that. Fitzgerald read it to him from the transcript.
Fitzgerald also asked Cobbins if he lied to try to put the blame on his brother. He said he just wanted to give himself a way out of what happened and to put the blame on “someone other than myself.”
Fitzgerald asked Cobbins many questions about the different versions he told investigators during questioning and Cobbins often said, “I can’t recall.”
Cobbins insisted to Fitzgerald that he was never in the carjacked SUV with the victims, despite telling investigators he was during questioning.
Fitzgerald asked Cobbins how it’s rape if Christian consented to oral sex with him. He said it was wrong because she was being held against her will.
The ADA asked why Cobbins didn’t help Christian get away after he promised to. “I tried to convince him (Davidson) to let everybody go,” Cobbins told her.
Fitzgerald pointed out that Davidson was gone from the house at some point and all Cobbins had to do was untie Christian and let her go. She asked why he didn’t do it and he said he was afraid because he knew Davidson was “a live wire.”
The ADA asked Cobbins if he poured bleach into Christian’s mouth to try to get rid of his DNA.
He said he didn’t know anything about bleach being poured into her mouth and didn’t know if it would make DNA deteriorate.
After a break, Cobbins told Fitzgerald he didn’t know Christian had called her father the night of the carjacking so he wasn’t present when the call was made.
He also said that sometimes while he’s in custody, he’s called his father, but didn’t remember if he called him the night of the carjacking. He said his father lived in Knoxville in January 2007.
State’s closing: Cobbins told so many different versions
ADA Fitzgerald talked about the different versions Cobbins told investigators of what happened during his questioning and painted him as a liar.
The state played parts of seven versions Cobbins told on audio tapes.
Fitzgerald said Cobbins told an eighth version on the witness stand Saturday.
“Why blindfold her (Christian)? She knows where she’s at. She drove there,” according to Cobbins, Fitzgerald said.
The ADA said the state believes Newsom was raped in the Chipman Street house because he was bound with bed sheets.
Fitzgerald also said Cobbins could at least admit he tore Christian’s lip from her gum when he had sex with her, but he didn’t. Then she said, “You hurt her, Mr. Cobbins.”
She said the bullets in Newsom’s body and the trash bags on Christian’s body are proof of premeditation.
Fitzgerald said if Cobbins’ account of being in a separate car during the carjacking is true, Christian and Newsom may have thought at first he was a witness who could help them.
“Mr. Cobbins could’ve been a hero that night (of the carjacking,” Fitzgerald said. “He chose not to. And you know why he chose not to, because he’s part of it.”
Fitzgerald said the state didn’t have enough evidence against Boyd to charge him like the other four defendants.
She said criminal responsibility makes Cobbins guilty of murdering Newsom and Christian.
Defense: state hasn’t proven case
Defense attorney Scott Green said Fitzgerald and Assistant District Attorney General Leland Price are two of the best prosecutors in the state, but they haven’t proven their case against Cobbins.
“He’s a liar, a rapist and a coward, but they haven’t proved he’s a killer,” Green said.
He also said the state hasn’t shown that Cobbins knew the carjacking was going to happen until it did.
Green said without Davidson sitting in the courtroom, the temptation is to take it out on Cobbins.
“Not acting like a hero doesn’t make you guilty of first degree murder,” Green said, adding that the state can “guess, assume and suppose” what Cobbins has done, but can’t prove it.
Green also focused on Davidson, saying Christian’s bruised arms and choking, though not to the point of hemorrhaging, were indications he killed her because he did similar things to his girlfriend, Daphne Sutton.
He pointed out Davidson’s prints are on Christian and Newsom’s belongings and said there’s testimony that Davidson gave away Christian’s clothes.
“Find him guilty of what he did. Let another jury come here and put a needle in the arm of the man who’s earned it,” Green said, then held up Davidson’s mug shot, “big brother.”
State makes final points
The state returned for its rebuttal closing with ADA Leland Price, who said looking at all the evidence in this case, Cobbins ignored “red flags” about his brother, Davidson.
“Criminal responsibility says he’s (Cobbins) just as guilty as the others,” Price said. “He’s right there alongside his brother all the way” despite seeing him beat his girlfriend (which Cobbins denied seeing) and point a gun at Lawson at one point.
Price said the defendants were looking for someone to carjack when they drove around Washington Ridge Apartments twice. Cobbins claimed they were trying to remember where the apartment was they were headed to.
Christian and Newsom’s deaths were guaranteed when they were taken back to the Chipman Street house, Price said.
He also pointed out that when Cobbins said he was raping Christian only Coleman was in the house. “He could’ve freed her, but he raped her,” Price said, “He left her there for his brother to have his fun.”