As a chief deputy U.S. marshal explained to the interviewer, real-world fugitive apprehension has nothing in common with the movie version.
Remember the big set piece in the movie The Fugitive (1993), when in a fiery train crash in Illinois, Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), wrongly convicted for his wife's murder, escapes from the bus meant to take him and other condemned men to the prison where they are to be executed? Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones, in his Academy Award-winning role) shows up, immediately sizes up the local sheriff as an incompetent, country bumpkin, and takes control of the fugitive apprehension, giving his famous speech:
Alright, listen up, people. Our fugitive has been on the run for ninety minutes. Average foot speed over uneven ground barring injuries is 4 miles-per-hour. That gives us a radius of six miles. What I want from each and every one of you is a hard-target search of every gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse in that area. Checkpoints go up at fifteen miles. Your fugitive's name is Dr. Richard Kimble. Go get him.
The federales are in charge! Hip, hip, hurray!
In reality, such ignorant showboating would just about guarantee the suspect’s escape. (The fictional suspect got away, anyway, but that was because he was played by the then invincible Harrison Ford.) What does Marshal Gerard know about the lay of the land, escape routes, etc.? Nichts, nada, zilch.
What does the local sheriff know about those things? Just about everything, and what he doesn’t know, his men know.
Back in early January, a fugitive apprehension was undertaken that few people outside of Knoxville, TN and Lebanon, KY heard about at the time, in arresting suspects in what may end up known as the most gruesome crime of the year.
In the wee hours of January 7, a white Knoxville couple, both of whom attended the University of Tennessee, Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, was carjacked and kidnapped outside of the home of friends.
Christian and Newsom were bound, and taken to the house at 2316 Chipman Street in black East Knoxville, where their captors engaged in an orgy of rape and violence. The captors anally gang-raped Newsom in front of his girlfriend, and orally, anally, and vaginally raped Christian in front of her boyfriend. They beat both victims. They sprayed cleaning fluid into Christian’s mouth. After anywhere from 6-12 hours, they shot and killed Newsom, and desecrated his corpse, setting it on fire near some railroad tracks, dumping Christian’s 2005 Toyota 4-Runner nearby. (So much for the carjacking motive.)
The 4-Runner and Newsom’s desecrated corpse were found separately on January 7 by Christian’s father, Gary, and a railroad worker, respectively. Gary Christian found the 4-Runner with the help of his daughter’s cellphone company, which he had notified that she was missing.
A fingerprint belonging to convicted carjacker Lemaricus Davidson, 25, who had been released in August from West Tennessee State Penitentiary after serving a mere five-year sentence, was found in the 4-Runner. Davidson and his brother, convicted felon (attempted robbery) Letalvis Cobbins, 24, were then renting the house at 2316 Chipman Street, where on January 9 Knoxville police, seeking to serve an arrest warrant on Davidson, found Christian’s “battered” corpse stuffed in a large garbage can in the kitchen.
On January 11, Lemaricus Davidson was arrested in an abandoned house on Knoxville’s Reynolds St. According to Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten, Davidson did not put up a struggle, and “cried” upon being led out of the house by lawmen. Ex-con Eric DeWayne Boyd, 34, was also arrested. Boyd allegedly was harboring Davidson, and had gone out for groceries at the time law enforcement officers nabbed the latter. (Boyd’s specialty is armed robbery.)
Letalvis Cobbins and ex-con (crime not known) George Geovonni Thomas were arrested in Lebanon, KY, on January 12. Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, no previous adult convictions, who had cooperated with authorities in Knoxville in the days just after the victims were found, was also arrested in Lebanon on February 1.
Louisville-based, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal Rich Knighten of the Western District of Kentucky, who is responsible for the Lebanon area, and who led the interagency task force that apprehended Letalvis Cobbins and George Thomas on January 12, was kind enough to give me an interview in which he explained how the Cobbins-Thomas fugitive apprehension went, and how fugitive apprehension in general works, this side of Hollywood.
* * *
RK (Marshal Rich Knighten): We led a great big huge roundup of officers who arrested them. They were then taken to the Police Department, where they were interviewed by the detectives from the Knoxville Police who were doing the investigation.
NS (Nicholas Stix): How many officers were involved in that roundup, sir?
RK: Oh, my God [laughs]. There was probably 25-30 law enforcement officers there.
RK: Yes, oh, yes. ‘Cause we had probably a dozen that came up from Knoxville, that were from the [Knox County] Sheriff’s Office and the [Knoxville] Police Department. And then we deputized them, because they were outside their jurisdiction.
NS: Okay, so that they could function.
NS: O.k. And the rest of them, I’m taking it, are, were Kentucky…
RK: Yeah, Kentucky State Police, Sheriff’s Department there, the local city police, and then, the entire, our whole Task Force here, that we have in Louisville.
NS: Now, what sort of a task force is that?
RK: It’s a joint law enforcement task force made up of feds, and state and locals. We’ve got about a dozen people on it – U.S. Marshals, Kentucky State Police, Louisville Metro Police, Jefferson County Sheriffs, Oldham County Sheriff, University of Louisville Police, New Albany, Indiana Police across the river, Jeez (chuckles).
NS: So, you had people from all these different organizations working together on this roundup.
RK: Yes. Huh.
NS: And it went smoothly?
RK: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.
NS: Now, how long – from when you first were notified of these fugitives – how long did it take from then until you actually got them in custody?
RK: Oh, as I remember, it was all in the same day.
NS: Uh huh!
RK: We got notified somewhere around oh, I guess, mid, mid-morning, that if I remember correctly, the Marshal’s Office in Knoxville contacted us and said we think these guys have run to Kentucky, and they’re in this little town, and, you know, they’re armed and dangerous and bad guys and all that stuff, and they sent us all the info within, we took the whole task force and went straight down there, met up with all the locals and came up with a plan on how we were going to surround the building, surround this house that they were in, in the meantime, the locals from Knoxville, and the county, I can’t remember if it’s Knox County, or…
NS: Yes, yes.
RK: They all came up and met us, and we swarm in, and surround the house, and … got ‘em.
NS: And there was no resistance, right?
RK: Oh, no, uh uh.
NS: So, this is a very rapid response force we’re talking about.
RK: Oh, sure, yeah.
NS: I mean, in terms not just at the house itself, but in terms of your getting the information from the folks in Knoxville, and then putting together, mustering this force. I mean, how long did it take you, if you don’t mind me asking, to get all the people involved – the 25-30 officers – who then, you know, did the roundup?
RK: Well, it was quick, because half of ‘em work right here in our office. Yeah, we have a big task force room where they all work out of.
NS: O.k…. So, it’s kind of like the fire department.
RK: All they do is get in their cars and drive down there and, you know, when they got down there, and they sort of looked over the situation. They started calling in the locals, the Sheriff’s Department, the local police, the Kentucky State Police, of course, came and brought some troops. Then … then … the locals from Knoxville showed up.
RK: We thought they might send one or two detectives, and they sent, they must have sent 10 or 12 officers.
NS: So, this was like a fire …
RK: Oh, yeah.
NS: … like a fire bell going off.
RK: Yeah, buddy (laughs).
NS: Oh, wow!
RK: Yeah. They wanted to be involved in the apprehension, and of course, we totally supported ‘em.
NS: Sure, sure. Now, do your folks from the task force get special supplementary training?
RK: Oh, well, yeah. There, first off, deputy U.S. marshals are trained in tracking down fugitives, but the local police agencies that work with us, we send them to training, our training academy, we send them to various, you know, training around the country, there’s the National Association of Fugitive Investigators, there’s the International Association of Fugitives … people, and they all go to these different classes that they put on and stuff. So, we send them out to training and things and it helps sharpen their skills to catch the bad guys.
NS: And do you have any idea how much time one of these local guys would spend in the course of a year training to be a fugitive investigator in order to work with you?
RK: Well, we find at least a week, at least 40 hours of training. And then we do sort of in-house training here and there and stuff right here in the office.
NS: Like continuing, like continuing education?
RK: Yes, yeah, you have to, cause it’s, you know, they absorb so much from each other just working every day. You know, they work here with us a year or two at a time, and all you hear, they’re really good at it.
NS: So, they send you crack people, then.
RK: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. They have their own agency, each agency has their own little system, that they screen their applicants that want to come to the task force, they interview them, and they pick the best of the best, and they send them to us and then all we do is just work with them and sharpen them a little better, and then when they go back to their agency, their agency rotates ‘em. Some rotate ‘em once a year, every year, and some rotate ‘em every two years, but you know, they go back with a lot of skills and experience, to really do a good job for their police agency there.
See, now they come and they bring their own cases. So they don’t just come work federal cases. Each agency’s representative brings eight cases from their agency. Kentucky State Police comes, he brings murderers and rapists and robbers and thieves, and Louisville Metro, and Jefferson County sheriffs, they all bring their own cases to the table, and we sort of work through them and prioritize them, and no case gets shoved to the back, you know, and forgotten. We all try to catch ‘em. So, that’s the advantage of them putting someone on the task force is, you have a team now, that with lots of resources and knowledge, that can work up the case, and try to identify and locate your bad guy.
NS: Right, right. Well, you obviously in this case you had um, you had some information from somebody, I guess Vanessa Coleman, who was listed as a witness at first, but has since been indicted in the state case on all these crimes.
RK: Yeah, I don’t know who they got the information from.
NS: Well, I mean, I’m guessing she was the source initially because, because she was the only one who was listed in the initial reports. She was listed as a witness, and then, once you got all your suspects rounded up, she suddenly became a, um, an accomplice.
RK: I don’t, I don’t …
NS: No, I’m just guessin’; I’m not tryin’; I’m not fishin’ with you, because this is a Tennessee thing, anyway.
NS: She was on the other end, over in, in Knoxville.
NS: But I’m just guessing that that would be where they probably found out about the house in Lebanon, so.
RK: Probably. I have no idea.
NS: Yeah, yeah.
RK: They [unclear] that said they ran to this location.
NS: Right, right.
RK: They never, I mean they never told us how they got it, though.
NS: Right, right, sure, sure. They kept it close to the vest.
NS: Well, that’s fascinating. I want to thank you for your time, Marshal Knighten.
RK: You’re welcome, sir.
* * *
So, there you have it. No Hollywood theatrics, no Academy Awards … and no bloodshed. Just good, old-fashioned, new-fashioned police work, a model of local-state-federal cooperation, and two suspects in custody.
* * *
On February 1, a Knox County grand jury in Knoxville (which is also the county seat) handed down 46-count state felony indictments against Letalvis Cobbins, Lemaricus Davidson, and George Geovonni Thomas, including but not limited to theft, aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, and felony murder and premeditated murder. Among other crimes, Thomas is charged with having shot Christopher Newsom to death. Cobbins’ girlfriend, Vanessa Coleman, 18, was indicted on 40 state felony counts, including aggravated rape, felony murder, and premeditated murder. Eric Dewayne Boyd, 34, has not been charged by the State of Tennessee, but has been charged federally with “being an accessory after the fact to carjacking.”
All of the defendants are black.
In Cobbins,’ Davidson’s, and Thomas’ respective cases, the U.S. Attorney’s office asked for and got the federal carjacking and weapons charges dismissed without prejudice (meaning that they may later be reinstated), so that the state trials may proceed first.
Letalvis Cobbins’ trial is scheduled to commence on May 12, 2008.
Vanessa Coleman's trial is set to begin on June 16, 2008.
Lemaricus Davidson is scheduled to go on trial on July 14, 2008.
George Thomas is scheduled to go to trial on August 11, 2008.
The date for Eric Boyd's federal trial has not yet been set.
In addition to the initial 46-count indictment handed down against Davidson, on May 18 he was indicted on six additional state felony counts in the January 8 armed robbery of an employee in a local Pizza Hut, the attempted armed robbery of a female customer in the restaurant, and weapons possession charges. (Not noticing that Davidson allegedly had a gun trained on her when he allegedly tried to grab the customer’s purse, she resisted, and the “bewildered” robber was left holding the ripped strap.) Davidson’s next court date in the Pizza Hut case is September 27, 2007.
Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols has yet to declare whether he will seek the death penalty against Davidson, Cobbins, Thomas or Coleman.
Award-winning, New York-based freelancer Nicholas Stix founded A Different Drummer magazine (1989-93). Stix has written for Die Suedwest Presse, New York Daily News, New York Post, Newsday, Middle American News, Toogood Reports, Insight, Chronicles, the American Enterprise, Campus Reports, VDARE, the Weekly Standard, Front Page Magazine, Ideas on Liberty, National Review Online and the Illinois Leader. His column also appears at Men's News Daily, MichNews, Intellectual Conservative, Enter Stage Right and OpinioNet. Stix has studied at colleges and universities on two continents, and earned a couple of sheepskins, but he asks that the reader not hold that against him. His day jobs have included washing pots, building Daimler-Benzes on the assembly-line, tackling shoplifters and teaching college, but his favorite job was changing his son's diapers.