Deena Christian and Mary Newsom, the mothers of Knoxville torture-murder victims Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, this week described for the Senate Judiciary Committee their experiences with the Tennessee justice system in wake of the 2007 slayings. The case was made infamous both due to the horrifying level of violence and sexual degradation involved, and because the judge who presided over four of the defendants’ trials, Richard Baumgartner, was later revealed to have been illegally obtaining and abusing prescription drugs during court proceedings. Two defendants in the case were granted retrials following revelations of ex-judge Baumgartner’s criminal behavior.
Two pieces of legislation are under consideration in the General Assembly related to the case. The Channon Christian Act would prevent defense attorneys from introducing allegations calling into question the character of crime victims during trials. The Chris Newsom Act adjusts the so-called “Thirteenth Juror” rule, in which a judge formally endorses a jury’s verdict as being consistent with the weight of the evidence presented in a case. The Newsom Act “creates a presumption that the original trial judge…approved the jury’s verdict with respect to each count on which a unanimous verdict was returned.”