KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - A Kentucky man was sentenced Wednesday
to life in prison without parole by the same jury that convicted him of murder in the carjacking, rape and murder of a young Tennessee couple.
Letalvis Cobbins, 26, could have received two death sentences. He took a deep breath and then sat down after the jury announced its decision, following less than three hours of deliberation.
The jury convicted Cobbins of Lebanon, Ky., on Tuesday in the January 2007 attack on 21-year-old Channon Christian and her 23-year-old boyfriend Christopher Newsom, both of Knoxville. He was the first of four defendants to be tried in the case.
Christian's father Gary Christian grimaced as he heard the sentence.
"It ain't enough," he said outside the courtoom.
"They didn't give Channon and Chris that option to live or die," Channon's mother Deena Christian said. "They were taken from us and he deserved the same thing."
The jury found Cobbins guilty on 33 of 38 counts that could bring scores more years in prison at his sentencing on Nov. 20. The victims' families praised the prosecutors but were disappointed in the jury.
"The jury didn't do their job. They didn't render the verdict they should (have)," said Hugh Newsom, father of Christopher Newsom. "One consolation is he will not be on the street again."
Earlier Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Leland Price had tried to persuade the jury - brought from Nashville because of extensive pretrial publicity - that the crime "cries out for justice and the maximum punishment this state can impose."
Defense attorney Scott Green countered that Cobbins should be sent to prison for the rest of his life - "never getting out, sitting there to rot and to think ... He has earned it."
Afterward, Green said he was glad the jury spared Cobbins' life.
The victims were white and middle class, and the defendants poor and black. Some conservative Internet commentators and white supremacist agitators accused the national media of reverse discrimination by failing to give the case the same attention paid to white-on-black hate crimes.
The jury of six men and six women included six blacks, five whites and one Asian.
Christian's body was found stuffed in a garbage can in a rundown rental house. She had been raped repeatedly, beaten and choked, then wrapped in plastic bags and left to suffocate in the trash can.
Medical experts testified Christian was likely dead within 24 hours of the carjacking - before her father and friends found her carjacked sport utility vehicle nearby.
Authorities would first find her boyfriend's raped, shot and partially burned body along some railroad tracks. He died about two hours after the couple was carjacked in the middle of a kiss.
"Neither Chris or Channon deserved what happened to them," Deena Christian said. "They did nothing wrong."
Misha Davidson, Cobbins' older sister, testified that Cobbins was an abused and neglected child in Memphis. Their mother used drugs and was frequently absent, and Cobbins' father was rarely around.
The children had stability when they lived with a great aunt, but after she died, they were basically on their own. Cobbins was 13 then.
"He is not a killer. He is not a killer," she wept from the stand.
"I am just so sorry to the family that this has happened to. I cannot imagine their pain," she said, looking to the Christians. "You may look at me and hate me for what happened, but I love my brother."
Cobbins' cousin Essie Farmer acknowledged, "We have not played the role we should have in Letalvis' life. We are just asking you not to kill him."
Cobbins' mother is dead and his father, who lives in Knoxville, told family members he wanted nothing to do with his son or the trial.
Clinical psychologist James Murray testified for the defense that Cobbins' upbringing left him with a "chronic psychological maladjustment" and indications of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But he said that didn't excuse Cobbins' actions or suggest he was incompetent to stand trial.
Cobbins moved to Lebanon, Ky., a few years ago to work for the JobCorps program. He came to Knoxville to visit his older half brother Lemaricus Davidson, 28, who came here after completing a prison sentence for carjacking in West Tennessee.
Cobbins' family testified he had difficulty standing up to the often-angry and manipulative Davidson, the alleged ringleader in the Christian-Newsom slayings. Cobbins admitted he raped Christian, but said he saw Davidson kill Christian and the carjacking was Davidson's idea.
Davidson will be tried next month. Also awaiting trial are Cobbins' friend George Thomas, 26, and girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 21, both of Lebanon, Ky. All are charged with murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)