Thursday, August 27, 2009


Jury Gives Cobbins Life Without Parole

Last night, a jury sentenced Letalvis Cobbins, the first of 4 defendants to stand trial for the carjacking, rapes, and murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom, the sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Read more here.

In the sentencing hearing, the jury heard a Knoxville psychologist describe Cobbins' history of neglect, abuse, homelessness, beatings, brain injury, substance abuse, and trauma. Cobbins had one period of his childhood until about about age 10 in which he lived with his aunt, upon whose death he lost the only stable figure in his life.

Sadly, I was not surprised by any of the testimony I heard about Cobbins. Tragically, there are many others like him living in our communities all over Tennessee. My parents are both life-long public school teachers, and they have often spoken of children throughout their careers, and sadly more so in the last 10 years, who are on a similar path.

And, my mind begins to spin as I ask myself where we were as a society for all the time Letalvis Cobbins was barely surviving physically and mentally, for all those years when he was developing into a person who could perpetuate such ghastly acts on other people. I am in no way removing responsibility from Cobbins but am saying that if we as a society refuse to acknowledge our own responsibility in this nightmare, then we are not only losing an opportunity, but are also setting ourselves up to reap more painful consequences down the road. Our lack of awareness and inaction about the circumstances of the most "at-risk" in our communities will only lead to more violence and instability if they do not receive the care, attention, and resources necessary for them to learn how to function in society.

When are we going to get serious about dealing with these troubled kids before it is too late, and people like the Christians and the Newsoms are faced with the horrible reality of burying theirs?

I understand the outrage about these crimes. I feel that outrage myself. My hope is that we can channel that outrage into finding the common will to invest our time and our resources into those measures that will help prevent such crimes from happening instead of devoting ourselves to demanding more violence and death.

Life without parole is a very difficult sentence. As a young man, Cobbins will spend the rest of his life locked up in a cage, told what to do and when to do it, with no hope of ever being free. He will die there. No one should be fooled that his is somehow a "light" sentence.

And as I stated before in an earlier posting, we could do to him what he did to Channon and Christopher over and over again, and it would do nothing to change the situation or bring those two young people back. Herein lies the illusion of revenge...that somehow an eye for an eye will even the score. It won't. Nothing will. But instead, as Gandhi reminds us, "An eye for an eye only leaves the world blind."

We do have a choice though. We can choose to act in ways that are in keeping with who we are as civilized human beings, as children of God, and not act toward the perpetrators as they acted toward Channon and Christopher. That is our choice.

And as the news reporter noted, the reality of the death penalty is that it would take years for the sentence to be carried out--years of agonizing waiting, of court appearances, of reliving the crime in the media, years of attention for the perpetrator. With life without parole, it is over. He is in prison, and there will be no parole, no cameras, no attention--just the rest of his life to perhaps come to some kind of realization of the pain he has caused and to seek to become a different person, even if it is behind bars.

There is no good ending to this tragedy. I simply pray that all the hurting, devastated people involved will find some measure of peace--peace which passes all our understanding. That is and will be my prayer.
Comments :
The jury in this case was not in fact a "Knoxville jury" as stated. The jury was from Nashville. because of that, Cobbins was not sentenced by a jury of his peers or he would surely have been given a death sentence that he so deserved.
You are right about the jury being a Nashville jury. I will make that change on the blog. Thank you.
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