State v. Davidson

Citation509 S.W.3d 156
Decision Date19 December 2016
Docket NumberNo. E2013-00394-SC-DDT-DD,E2013-00394-SC-DDT-DD
CourtTennessee Supreme Court
Parties STATE of Tennessee v. Lemaricus Devall DAVIDSON

David M. Eldridge, Douglas A. Trant, Loretta G. Cravens, and Troy S. Weston, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Lemaricus Devall Davidson.

Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; John H. Bledsoe, Senior Counsel; Randall E. Nichols, District Attorney General; and Leland Price and TaKisha Fitzgerald, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Sharon G. Lee, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Cornelia A. Clark and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.


Sharon G. Lee, J.

A jury imposed two sentences of death on the defendant after convicting him of multiple counts of first degree murder, especially aggravated robbery, especially aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, and facilitation of aggravated rape. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the convictions and sentences. State v. Davidson , No. E2013-00394-CCA-R3-DD, 2015 WL 1087126, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Mar. 10, 2015). We have carefully considered the defendant's claims of error and conducted the review mandated by Tennessee Code Annotated section 39-13-206. We hold that the trial court did not err by admitting evidence obtained during searches of the defendant's house and of his person; the trial court did not err by admitting the defendant's statement to law enforcement officers; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the victims' family members to wear buttons containing images of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting into evidence post-mortem photographs of the victims; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the jury to view the defendant's video recorded statement in the courtroom during deliberations; the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting expert testimony regarding ballistics and fingerprint evidence; the defendant's convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; and the trial court properly effectuated merger of the convictions. We affirm the Court of Criminal Appeals on the remaining issues and include relevant portions of its opinion in the appendix. We hold the sentences of death were not imposed in an arbitrary fashion; the evidence fully supports the jury's findings of aggravating circumstances in Tennessee Code Annotated sections 39-13-204(i)(5), (6), (7), and (13) ; the evidence supports the jury's finding that these aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances presented by the defendant; and the defendant's death sentences are neither excessive nor disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. We affirm the defendant's convictions and sentences of death and vacate the Court of Criminal Appeals' remand to the trial court for correction of the judgment documents.

I.Events of January 6–10, 2007

This case arises from the January 2007 kidnapping, robbery, rape, and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in Knoxville, Tennessee. On Saturday, January 6, 2007, Channon and Chris planned to have dinner together and then spend the evening at a party at a friend's home in the Halls community. Saturday afternoon, Channon went to her friend Kara Sowards's apartment at the Washington Ridge Apartments to get ready for the party. Around 8:00 p.m., Ms. Sowards went to the party, and Channon stayed behind waiting for Chris to arrive. At 8:47 p.m., Chris withdrew $100 from his bank account at an ATM machine in the Halls area. Around 9:00 p.m., Chris dropped off his friend, Josh Anderson, at the party, telling friends he and Channon were going out to eat and would join the party later. Ms. Sowards called Channon and told her Chris was on his way. It was about a ten-minute drive from the party to the Washington Ridge Apartments.

Around 10:00 p.m., when Chris and Channon had not arrived at the party, their friends called and texted them but received no reply. Around 11:00 p.m., two of Chris's friends went to the Washington Ridge Apartments in search of him and discovered that his truck was in the parking lot and Channon's 2005 Toyota 4Runner was missing.

Chris and Channon never arrived at the party. Their friends never saw or spoke to them again. Channon was last seen wearing jeans, hot pink high heels, and a navy blue, hot pink, and white striped sweater and carrying a gray purse. Chris was last seen wearing jeans, black and silver size 9 ½ Nike Shox athletic shoes, a blue sweater with a white collar, and a baseball cap. Sometime between 9:10 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., Chris and Channon were abducted from the parking lot of the Washington Ridge Apartments and taken in Channon's vehicle to the home of Lemaricus Devall Davidson at 2316 Chipman Street in Knoxville.

On Sunday, January 7, around 12:30 a.m., Xavier Jenkins, an employee of Waste Connections on Chipman Street, arrived for work and waited in his car in the parking area outside the Waste Connections gated parking lot for a coworker to arrive. From where Mr. Jenkins was parked, he could see across the street to Mr. Davidson's house and noticed Channon's vehicle parked in front of it. The porch lights were on, and the house seemed to be "pretty busy" for that time of night. He had never seen Channon's vehicle before that evening. Mr. Jenkins briefly left to go to a nearby convenience store, and when he returned, he waited in his vehicle in the parking area across from Mr. Davidson's house. Around 12:50 a.m., he saw Channon's vehicle pull away from where it had been parked in front of Mr. Davidson's house and come in his direction. As the vehicle passed Mr. Jenkins, it slowed down, and he saw four African-American men in it. The driver, wearing a hoodie, looked at him "kind of strange" and "kind of mean-[mugged]" him.

On Sunday at 12:33 a.m., Channon called her father and told him she had changed her mind and would not be spending the night at the party but would be home between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. Cellular records indicate this call came from the Cherry Street area in the general vicinity of Mr. Davidson's house.

On Sunday at 1:45 a.m., Jerome Arnold was watching television at his Chipman Street residence a block from Mr. Davidson's house when he heard "three fairly evenly spaced pops" coming from the direction of the train tracks.

On Sunday around 3:30 a.m., Ms. Sowards returned from the party and noticed that Chris's truck was in the parking lot and Channon's vehicle was gone. Ms. Sowards's apartment door was locked, and Channon's overnight bag was missing.

On Sunday at 6:30 a.m., when Mr. Jenkins returned to Waste Connections from running his route, he saw Channon's vehicle with an orange University of Tennessee "Power T" decal on the window parked facing the train tracks in front of Waste Connections on Chipman Street. The vehicle appeared to be out of place, and when Mr. Jenkins looked in the vehicle, he saw no one in it.

On Sunday at 7:45 a.m., when Roy Thurman arrived for work at a sandblasting company in the Chipman Street area, he saw smoke rising from the direction of the train tracks.

On Sunday morning and afternoon, Ms. Sowards and Channon's mother repeatedly called Channon's cell phone, but there was no answer. On Sunday afternoon, Channon's mother's fears were confirmed when the manager of the Shoe Department where Channon worked called to check on Channon because she had not reported to work. Channon's mother called local hospitals, Chris's family, and Channon's friends trying to find her. When Channon still could not be located, Channon's mother notified the Knox County Sheriff's Department and filed a missing persons report. Meanwhile, Chris's family was also worried about him. They called the police, checked with local hospitals and Chris's friends, and filed a missing persons report.

On Sunday at 12:20 p.m., J.D. Ford, a Norfolk Southern Railroad employee, discovered Chris's severely burned body beside the train tracks not far from Mr. Davidson's house. Chris had been shot, his hands tied behind his back, his eyes covered with a bandana, a sock stuffed in his mouth, his head wrapped in a sweatshirt, and his bare feet bound together. The police were notified and responded to the scene.

When Channon's family requested help from law enforcement, they were told that the authorities would not search for their missing daughter and they would have to do it themselves. And they did. The Christians contacted their cellular phone company and learned that Channon's phone had last pinged off the Cherry Street phone tower. On Sunday night, some of Channon's and Chris's family and friends went to the Cherry Street area and searched street by street. This was a part of town that Channon and Chris did not visit.

Early Monday, January 8, between 1:30 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., the search party discovered Channon's vehicle at the corner of Chipman and Glider Streets. An orange University of Tennessee "Power T" decal and a "NorthFace" sticker had been removed from the back window. The police were called and responded to the scene. Bags of clothing, including a pair of GLO jeans, which Channon had planned to donate to charity, were missing from the back of the vehicle. Channon's overnight bag and its contents were also missing. The front seats of the vehicle were pushed all the way back, and the backseat floorboard was caked with mud. A crumpled pack of Newport cigarettes was in the back of the vehicle. Neither Channon nor Chris smoked Newport cigarettes. The vehicle was photographed, inventoried, and taken to the police impound lot. Sandra Kileen Bible, who lived in the house at the corner of Chipman and Glider Streets, said she had not seen the vehicle there at midnight when she sat on the porch smoking a cigarette. She had never seen Channon's vehicle in the neighborhood before.

Dan Crenshaw,...

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