KNOXVILLE (AP) — The attorney for a man sentenced to death for the torture slayings of a young Knoxville couple says the jury spent the majority of its sentencing deliberations singing worship songs and reading Bible verses rather than discussing the case.
A motion filed on behalf of Lemaricus Davidson was recently unsealed along with pages of handwritten hymns and praise songs used by jurors during Davidson’s 2009 trial. His attorney says the impromptu worship service violated Davidson’s rights to a fair trial, due process and impartial jury.
The Knoxville News Sentinel reports that Senior Judge Walter Kurtz set a Jan. 10 hearing for the motion for a new trial.
Davidson was sentenced to death in the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of 21-year-old Channon Christian and 23-year-old Christopher Newsom. Kurtz is expected to rule on whether to grant new trials to Davidson; his brother, Letalvis Cobbins; and George Thomas after the previous judge in their trials pleaded guilty to misconduct in a prescription painkiller scandal.
“In this case, it is clear that the biblical references and religious hymns that infiltrated the jury room during sentencing deliberations are of a nature suggesting that jurors’ highest responsibility is to God and that they will be absolved for their actions in determining Mr. Davidson’s sentence,” Davidson’s attorneys wrote in the motion.
A signed affidavit from a bailiff who served during Davidson’s trial said the praise service happened before deliberation but does not give a timeframe or location of the service. The affidavit shows that the jury used the copies of the hymns while one member led them in song and played guitar, and another juror read a Bible verse.
The unsealed documents also include a message board post from an anonymous person self-identified as a member of the jury. The poster said that of more than five hours spent in deliberation on the second day, four were spent “in prayer and in reading the Bible and reaching the Moral Certainty called for by Law.”