News briefs in the state
Posted: Friday, December 2, 2011 8:02 pm
New trials ordered in Knoxville torture-slaying
KNOXVILLE (AP) — A special judge on Thursday granted new trials for four people convicted in the torture-slayings of a young Knoxville couple, ruling that the presiding judge was intoxicated at the time.
Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood cited an investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation into then-Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner, who was disbarred in October.
Twenty-one-year-old Channon Christian and 23-year-old Christopher Newsom were carjacked while on a date, sexually tortured and then killed in 2007.
The four were convicted during trials in 2009 and 2010. One of them, Lemaricus Davidson, received the death penalty. Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas are serving life sentences, and Vanessa Coleman is serving 53 years. All were from Knoxville except Coleman, of Lebanon, Ky.
Blackwood also said Baumgartner abused his position of authority by securing pills. Baumgartner resigned in March after pleading guilty to official misconduct and admitting that he was addicted to pain pills. He received a two-year suspended sentence.
Various media outlets in Knoxville have reported he has been in drug rehab. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Baumgartner Thursday were unsuccessful; he does not have a listed telephone number.
Judge favors plaintiff
in private prison case
NASHVILLE (AP) — A Nashville judge ruled Thursday that private prison company Corrections Corporation of America must turn over more documents to a magazine that advocates for the rights of prisoners.
CCA had argued that the settlement documents sought by the plaintiff were confidential and handled by the prison’s general counsel, which operates independently and isn’t connected in any way to the state.
But Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled once again that CCA is subject to Tennessee’s open records law because it is the equivalent of a government agency, and that no government entity can enter into a confidential settlement.
Alex Friedmann, a former prisoner who is now an editor at Prison Legal News, sent a letter to CCA in April 2007 asking for information on settlements, judgments and complaints against the company.
He sued CCA when the company refused to turn over the information, claiming it wasn’t subject to the state’s open records law. Bonnyman also heard the case in 2008, siding with Friedmann and ordering the company to turn over most of the records.
Published in The Messenger 12.2.11