Knoxville News-Sentinel: Johnia Berry walk kicks off ‘07 National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
Metro Pulse: The House on Chipman Street - Has some information about the Johnia Berry case and interviews Remonda Swafford. I met Remonda at the Cokesbury Johnia Berry meeting a few months ago. She’s been an outspoken, effective voice for the crime problem in the West Knoxville neighborhood where Johnia was killed.
Beyond that, I found parts of that Metro Pulse article incredibly offensive. The reporter, Leslie Wylie, goes out of her way to minimize and conceal the horrific crime that was at the center of the story.
The opening sentence is “You don’t need another rehashing of the grisly details.” But perhaps you do, since she omits them. The defendants have been charged with the double carjacking, kidnapping, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. It’s believed Newsom was raped and killed early on, then his body burned. Christian was gang-raped for several days before being murdered. One of the defendants, Vanessa Coleman, who was in the house during that time has stated that while Christian was alive her mouth was rinsed out with cleaning chemicals, presumably to hide DNA evidence.
Wylie implies that interest in the case is largely due to race (Christian and Newsom were white, their accused murderers were black) and includes this quote without disapproval:
“It’s a tough question,” says Kelly Johnson, a local criminal defense attorney, “because the media is in a position where they have to report those things, and what they have is two young, white people allegedly killed by three African-American gentlemen and an African-American woman. Does the media take more interest in a case when there are white victims? I don’t know. Maybe.”
I’m not sure that people who have been charged with robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder need to be described as “gentleman” without protest from the reporter. Particularly when the fingerprints of one of the defendants, Lemaricus Davidson, were found on materials in the carjacked vehicle, according to news reports. That clue lead police to 2316 Chipman Street, where Christian’s burned body was found in a kitchen trash can.
Wylie goes out of her way to make the issue race, as opposed to sticking to the simple facts of the nightmarish crimes that occurred. Googling for information about the Christian-Newsom murder I did find racist sites that are making hay of the case, but do Wylie and her editors seriously believe that an average person wouldn’t be offended and frightened if the victims and accused were of the same race? You have a pair of innocent young UT students going about their lives and being carjacked, raped, murdered, and mutilated by a gang of drug-induced criminals. If that doesn’t offend someone then it seems to me that that person’s moral compass is broken beyond all repair.
The same article has counterevidence that interest in the Christian-Newsom murders is racially motivated. Johnia Berry was white. We know that her murderer was also white, based on the eyewitness account of her roommate who survived the attack, as well as the DNA obtained from the killer’s blood left at the crimes cene. Yet despite Berry’s murder being a white-on-white crime there has been tremendous interest in the case. Wylie would have done well to stick to the facts, as Ellen Mellarnee did for her incredible Metro Pulse feature about Berry’s murder.
Instead, Wylie and her editors hide the facts from the reader, assuming that either the reader is a racist or that someone will use the facts to racial advantage. I don’t have any use for a newspaper that keeps the facts from its readers for fear that some people are too stupid and racist to handle those facts.
- WVLT Special Coverage of Christian-Newsom Murders
- Wikipedia entry for Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom Murder