11:45am

Mon December 5, 2011
Hundreds, Perhaps Thousands of Verdicts At Risk

Judge Impaired on Bench According to TBI Files

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Four convictions connected to an East Tennessee sexual murder/torture case, including one death penalty, have been nullified because the presiding judge was reportedly drunk during the trial.

          Tennessee Bureau of Investigation records obtained by reporter Jamie Satterfield of the Knoxville News Sentinel show that a clerk or the district attorney routinely rescheduled former Judge Richard Baumgartner's daily docket when he was too intoxicated to work.

          As a result, special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has now thrown out the convictions of four people tried in the sexual torture and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

          Blackwood ruled that Baumgartner was intoxicated during parts of the trials of Lemaricus Davidson, who received the death penalty, as-well-as Letalvis Cobbins, George Thomas and Vanessa Coleman.

          Satterfield says hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Baumgartner’s court decisions may now be subject to review. Whatever the outcome, she says Baumgartner himself isn’t likely to face additional charges.

"He plead guilty to official misconduct back in March as part of a plea deal, and so he's pretty much done. There's nothing else that you can do. These facts that we, the public, now know the TBI and the Special Prosecutor knew about when he entered his plea and they negotiated a plea with his defense attorney."

          Satterfield says there will likely be political fallout, with several elected officials connected to the case now politically “toxic” - her word - and unlikely to win or even seek reelection.