KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (CBS/AP) After a day and a half of deliberation, the jury acquitted Vanessa Coleman of all murder charges in the torture slayings of a young Knoxville couple. Although she was not found guilty on the most serious charges and won't face a life sentence or the death penalty, Coleman was convicted of facilitating crimes against one of the victims.
As Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner read the counts, the jury found Coleman "not guilty" on the first fourteen, stating "guilty" only on 17 counts that tied Coleman to the murder, rape, and robbery of 23-year-old Channon Christian.
The conviction of Coleman ends a string of trials that have been underway since Christian and her 23-year-old boyfriend Christopher Newsom were found murdered, raped, and robbed in January 2007.
According to prosecutors, the crime started as a carjacking, because the four assailants wanted the young woman's sport utility vehicle.
The crime escalated, and her boyfriend's naked, bound body was discovered along a railroad track near the Knoxville rental home where the crimes took place. Newsom had been sexually assaulted, shot in the back of the head, and set on fire.
Channon Christian was repeatedly raped, bleach was sprayed in her mouth to destroy evidence and, Coleman told investigators, another suspect broke her neck. Her body was found stuffed into a trash can.
Of the four sets of convictions related to the murders, Coleman's carries the lightest punishment and many people, including the victims' families, are outraged and upset by the not-guilty-of-murder verdict and do not believe justice was served.
Mary Newsom, the mother of Christopher, told CBS affiliate WTVF, "we are very disappointed in what the jury decided." "Channon and Chris both deserve justice, and justice was not served here today," Deena Christian, Channon's mother, told WTVF.
Hugh Newsom, Christopher's father, told the jury, "I hope they go back to Nashville and stay."
Coleman's parents were too upset to comment, but her defense lawyer, Ted Lavit, told WTVF that Coleman was thankful for the verdict. "She thanked us. She was pleased. She knew that she was gonna receive some time simply because she was there," said Lavit.
The other defendants, Coleman's boyfriend Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas, were convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole, while Lemaricus Davidson, who prosecutors said was the ringleader in the crimes, was convicted and sentenced to death.
Judge Baumgartner scheduled sentencing for Coleman, who is from Lebanon, Ky., for July 30.
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