By David Gardner
Last updated at 10:53 AM on 16th October 2009
It was the kind of crime that strikes terror into the hearts of parents everywhere.
A bright young couple were carjacked after a Saturday night date and murdered in the most brutal way imaginable.
Christopher Newsom, 23, was tied up and raped, shot in the back of the head and then dragged to a railway track and set on fire.
His girlfriend, 21-year-old University of Tennessee student Channon Christian’s fate was even more horrific.
Her death came only after hours of torture, during which time she was raped and savaged with a broken chair leg.
She was beaten in the head and a household bleach was poured down her throat and over her bleeding and battered genital area in an attempt by her attackers to cover any evidence of rape – all while she was still alive.
Torture: Channon Christian was forced to watch the attackers rape and kill her boyfriend Christopher Newsom before she was murdered
Then she was ‘hog-tied’ with curtains and a strip of bedding and a plastic bag was wrapped over her face.
Her body was stashed inside five bigger rubbish liners and dumped in a bin, where, according to the autopsy report, she slowly suffocated to death.
On Monday, the alleged ringleader of the gang accused of the killings goes on trial in Knoxville, Tennessee.
One of the gang has already been convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
But, even though the killings happened in January, 2007, they have attracted very little national and international coverage.
That’s because they do not fit into the conventional contours of an attack in America’s Deep South, where a shameful history of racial intolerance has meant assaults by whites on blacks have historically been regarded in the context of race.
In this case, the races were reversed: the victims were white and the four men and one woman charged in connection with the murders are black.
Ironically, the case has now generated more publicity surrounding the furore over whether or not political correctness was behind the US media’s decision to largely ignore the story than it did for the murders themselves.
Lemaricus Davidson, centre, goes on trial in Tennessee over the murders this week. Letalvis Cobbins, top right, has been jailed for life. Eric Boyd, Vanessa Coleman and George Thomas will be tried after Davidson
Life: Letalvis ‘Rome’ Cobbins was found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder. He was also convicted of rape, kidnapping and robbery
Defence lawyers were quick to say that some of the accused dated white women and even prosecutors denied any racial overtones.
‘There is absolutely no proof of a hate crime,’ said John Gill, special counsel to Knox County District Attorney Randy Nichols.
‘It was a terrible crime, a horrendous crime, but race was not a motive. We know from our investigation that the people charged in this case were friends with white people, socialised with white people, dated white people.
‘So not only is there no evidence of any racial animus, there’s evidence to the contrary,’ he added.
But that hasn’t stopped conservative critics from blaming liberal bias in the US mainstream media for failing to cover the attacks.
Columnist and right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin weighed in, saying: ‘This case – an attractive white couple murdered by five black thugs –doesn’t fit any political agenda.
‘It’s not a useful crime. Reverse the races and just imagine how the national media would cover the story of a young black couple murdered by five white assailants.’
Country music singer Charlie Daniels pointed out the media frenzy that came after a black woman accused three white members of the Duke University lacrosse team of raping her.
The players were later cleared after their accuser changed her story.
But Daniels said on his website: ‘If this had been white on black crime, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and their ilk would have descended on Knoxville like a swarm of angry bees.’
Victims: Channon christian, 21, and boyfriend Christopher Newsom, 23, were carjacked and murdered after a Saturday night date in Tennessee in 2007
Much of the criticism over the scant coverage of the murders has been on the internet through blogs and websites.
University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds said the American media has a ‘template’ for covering white-on-black crime but not the reverse.
‘I think it would have gotten a lot of national play faster if it had been a black couple kidnapped and killed by five white people,’ he told the local paper in Knoxville.
White supremacists have jumped onto the bandwagon, seeking to twist the facts for their own racist agenda.
They spread false details about the murders, claiming the victims were sexually dismembered and that Channon was sexually tortured for days, neither of which is true.
‘The DA’s office is outraged they have tried to abuse the victims by using the death of loved ones for racist purposes,’ John Gill said.
‘The things that have been seized on by these hate groups are things that never happened.’
‘There are people out there that just want to make something even worse than what it already is,’ Channon’s father, Gary Christian, said in a recent interview.
But Chris’s father, Hugh, told a local TV station: ‘Would they have done that to a black couple? I don’t think so.’
‘With all the things they did to them, what else could you call it but hate?’ his wife, Mary, said.
‘I think any kind of crime like that’s a hate crime. Was it racial? No, I don’t think so’, Mr Christian added.
Outrage: Campaigners believe the murders haven’t received extensive media coverage because of race issues
Knox County Sheriff Jimmy Jones said: ‘I don’t believe if they’d been Mexican, Chinese or Japanese it would have mattered. I believe these people were evil.
‘I believe it was a plan. These two kids just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.’
According to court testimony, Chris, a talented carpenter and former high school baseball player, and college senior Channon had gone to a friend’s home after a date at a local restaurant when they were held up at gunpoint and carjacked on January 6, 2007.
They were forced to drive to an old clapboard house in one of Knoxville’s toughest neighbourhoods, where their captors, some of them ex-convicts, subjected them to the nightmare ordeal.
Wearing glasses and dressed smartly in trousers, a collared shirt and jumper, Lemaricus Davidson, 28, looked more like a college student than an accused killer during pre-trial hearings.
The seven women and five man jury includes just one black juror. If convicted, Davidson could face the death penalty.
In a separate trial last month, Davidson’s brother, Letalvis Cobbins, 27, was sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of multiple counts of first degree murder. He was also convicted of rape, kidnapping and robbery.
George Thomas, 27, and Cobbins’ former girlfriend, Vannessa Coleman, 21, will be tried after Davidson.
A fifth defendant, Eric Boyd, 37, is serving an 18-year prison sentence after being convicted of being an accessory to a fatal carjacking.