Racially Charged Murder Trials Getting Scant National Press

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - A judge in Knox County, Tenn., Thursday scheduled separate trials during the summer of 2008 for four defendants charged with the carjacking, rape and murder of a young couple even as the case of black-on-white crime remained mostly untouched by the national media.

Letalvis Cobbins, 24, and 25-year-old Lemaricus Davidson were slated to go on trial May 12 and June 16, 2008, regarding 46 charges including first degree murder, kidnapping and rape regarding the deaths of 21-year-old Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, 23, in early January.

Judge Richard Baumgartner also set July 14, 2008, as the trial date for 18-year-old Vanessa Coleman, who faces 40 state charges connected to the crimes, and August 11, 2008, as the date George Thomas, 24, will be tried on 46 charges in the case.

While more than a dozen family members and friends of the victims sat in the courtroom Thursday, Baumgartner said he expected each trial to last about two weeks.

Also on Thursday, Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols stated that he has not yet decided whether to seek the death penalty if the defendants are convicted.

Reports on the latest developments in the case quickly filtered out through the local news media, including television station WATE, Channel 6 in Knoxville.

Jamie Foster, the station's news director, told Cybercast News Service on Thursday: "Most of the people in the area were obviously very upset by this crime."

As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Christian and Newsom were out on a dinner date in Knoxville on January 6 when they were carjacked, kidnapped, tortured, raped and murdered.

According to published news reports, the two were tortured at length in each other's presence, strangled and shot. Newsom's mutilated and burned remains were found along a railroad track the following day. Two days later, Christian's battered and burned body was found in a trash bin.

"Let's face it," Foster said. "It was a very brutal crime."

The suspects were quickly arrested and charged with numerous offenses including carjacking, kidnapping, rape, premeditated murder, theft and robbery.

"People want to see the suspects, if they are found guilty and responsible, pay for their crimes," Foster stated, even though the state does not have a "hate crime" law that would impose stiffer penalties for offenses committed on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation.

"This obviously is a big local story that we've been following from the beginning," he added. Still, in the time since the arrests were made, "there have been several other major stories going on in the local scene as well, so you haven't heard as much about it lately."

While indicating that "our focus here is on local news," Foster said that the story hasn't attracted much national attention.

"I can't really make policy for what the national news networks do," he stated, though "a few have requested video from us."

But Foster said he believes that situation will change.

"In all honesty, I believe that once more of the details come out, once this hits the courtroom, I think you probably will see more national coverage," he stated.

Cybercast News Service previously reported that Associated Press wire stories on the killings were carried by Knoxville news outlets, CBS News and Fox News, but other major media had yet to mention the matter. Conservative columnist Mark Alexander called it "a case study in journalistic malpractice."

A search of the Nexis database on Thursday found that since the May 8 story on this website, no other major media outlets have reported on the case. Telephone calls and emails seeking comment from ABC News, NBC News, CNN and the New York Times were not returned by press time.

However, conservative talk show host Michael Savage said on his May 9 radio program that the Knoxville situation "got me sick," and on Thursday, the Christian Broadcasting Network website discussed the story under the title "An Act of Domestic Terrorism You Haven't Heard About."

Robert Zelnick, a professor of journalism at Boston University, told Cybercast News Service Thursday the Knoxville murders, "as gruesome as they were, need a strong peg to reach a national audience."

"Racism would certainly be one. Celebrity involvement would be another. An epidemic of criminal activity of this sort would be a third," he said.

"The coincidence of white victims and black perpetrators doesn't pass muster, though the coincidence of white perpetrators and black victims might because of its relative infrequency," Zelnick added.

Still, "cases like this do make you resist the nonsense peddled by certain self-anointed black 'civil rights leaders' who suggest that the high incidence of black male incarceration is a function of society's racism," he said.

That claim is "nonsense," according to Zelnick. "It is a function of the breakdown of spiritual, cultural, educational and family value systems in the African-American community."

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