- The Washington Times - Friday, May 18, 2007

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In a powerful demonstration of the way the Internet has opened up the mainstream press to intensive second-guessing, bloggers are charging that news outlets have ignored the rape and murder of a young Knoxville couple because of the racial implications of the story.

The two victims were white; the five defendants are black.

The critics include mainstream conservatives, such as the National Review. They have drawn comparisons to the Duke lacrosse rape case and wondered why the killings of Channon Christian, 21, a University of Tennessee student, and her boyfriend, Christopher Newsom, 23, are not getting the same attention from what the bloggers regard sneeringly as the liberal press.

“Oh, that’s right, the victims were WHITE!” several conservative blogs have observed.

Or as National Review columnist Jack Dunphy commented online: “Uh oh, we’re not supposed to talk about such things, are we.”

It was bloggers who undermined CBS anchorman Dan Rather’s 2004 report about President Bush’s National Guard service, digging up evidence that the documents may have been forgeries. The next year, CNN chief Eason Jordan resigned after bloggers criticized him for supposedly saying that some journalists killed in Iraq by the U.S. military had been targeted.

The local press in Knoxville has covered developments in the carjacking case since the bodies were found, and the Associated Press ran stories that were transmitted nationally. But the killings have received scant attention from other news outlets.

Miss Christian and Mr. Newsom were last seen Jan. 6. They were carjacked as they were leaving a friend’s apartment. Mr. Newsom’s shot and burned body was found the next day along the railroad tracks, and Miss Christian’s corpse was discovered two days later in a trash can at a house rented by one of the defendants. Both had been sexually assaulted. Household cleaner had been poured in her mouth to remove evidence, according to court records.

Some Internet postings have suggested the killings should be treated as a hate crime. But Police Chief Sterling Owen said: “We have no evidence to support the notion that this was a race-based crime. We see this as a cold-blooded murder.”

Lemaricus Davidson, 25; his brother, Letalvis Cobbins, 24; George Thomas, 24; and Mr. Cobbins’ former girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, are charged with murder. A fifth defendant, Eric Boyd, 34, is being held on a federal charge of being an accessory after the fact, accused of helping Mr. Davidson.

The victims did not know the attackers and were just “at the wrong place at the wrong time,” said John Gill, special assistant to District Attorney Randy Nichols.

The four murder defendants will be given separate trials, beginning next May. Prosecutors have yet to say whether they will seek the death penalty.

Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor who operates Instapundit, a current events blog, said he was branded an apologist after he wrote that he had seen no evidence the killings were a hate crime.

However, he said: “I think it is totally true if the races of the perpetrators and the victims were reversed, the press would make a bigger deal about it. I think some people have been hanging back for fear of inflaming things.”

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