(NASHVILLE, Tenn.), February 13, 2014 — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve two bills this week to help crime victims and their families from being further victimized by an unjust court process. The vote on Senate Bills 1796 and 1797 came after compelling testimony from the families of Knoxville residents Channon Christian and Chris Newsom, who were carjacked, brutally raped, tortured and murdered. Law enforcement authorities have said the murders were among the most heinous crimes in Tennessee history.
Christian and Newsom’s killers were tried in a court of law and found guilty by the jury of the brutal crimes five years later. However, due to the presiding judge being found guilty of illegally taking narcotics during the trial, a special judge ordered retrials for the defendants, putting the families through two additional years of painful courtroom testimony before they were convicted a second time. The presiding judge, who verbally accepted the verdict, had not signed a routine form accepting the jury’s decision before being removed from the bench. The successor judge decided he could not sign it, even though he found no errors in the trial.
Senate Bill 1796 creates a presumption applicable to a successor judge that the presiding judge, who serves as the 13th juror, is presumed to have completed his duties once he or she accepts the verdict of the jury.
Senate Bill 1797 puts new restrictions on bringing into evidence presumptions or false information that are related to the victim that is totally unrelated to the crime. This measure would put Tennessee law into agreement with the constitutional amendment passed by Tennesseans in 1998 which states crime victims should be free from intimidation, harassment or abuse throughout the criminal justice system.
“The defense was based on nothing but lies,” said Deena Christian, Channon Christian’s mother. “You cannot bring up anything about their past acts, yet defense attorneys are allowed to bring up the victim’s past, even if they lie about it — and this needs to change.” Christian said the defense made numerous attempts to paint her daughter negatively in order to advance their case, including false accusations regarding illegal drug use despite a coroner report and numerous workplace blood tests which proved otherwise.
The bills now go to the Senate Calendar Committee where they will be scheduled for a final vote in the State Senate.