Judge orders new trials in Christian-Newsom murders

The retrial hearing for Letalvis Cobbins, LeMaricus Davidson, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman gets underway.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(WVLT) -- The four people convicted of the torture and killing of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom will stand trial again. Saying he feels sorry for the families and all they've been through, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood granted the defendants' motion for new trials Thursday afternoon following a two-hour description of Judge Richard Baumgartner's alleged drug activities, citing "structural errors" in the trials.

Hearings for the new trials are set for January 12 at 9:30 a.m.

Baumgartner, who presided over all of the cases, lost his license earlier this year after pleading guilty to drug charges. "I don't know whether you call it judicial corruption, stupidity, or arrogance," Blackwood said after laying out the allegations against Baumgartner. "I call it committing a crime."

"Baumgartner had a choice," he declared. "He chose pill taking."

Letalvis Cobbins, LeMaricus Davidson, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman were convicted separately for their involvement in the carjacking, raping, torture, and killing of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom four years ago.

Blackwood said that without any doubt Baumgartner knew he was addicted, at least since 2008. Reports presented by the judge during the hearing indicated Baumgartner would receive dozens of hydrocodone every few days and was visiting several doctors. One woman claimed she would provide the former judge with 30 pills a week and had sex with him several times in Baumgartner's office.

According to a TBI file presented during the hearing, a doctor reportedly told Baumgartner in 2008 that he should resign, but he replied that he needed "three more years."

Attorneys for the defendants argued Thursday morning that Judge Richard Baumgartner failed to act as the 13th juror during the defendants' trials, while prosecutors countered that Baumgartner handled each of the cases carefully and his judgment was not impaired.

State's attorneys added that questioning this would put thousands of cases into doubt. Prosecutors warned that if the fact a judge was using pain medications as grounds for a reversal, that ruling could have "far-reaching implications."

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