57 inmates wait on Tennessee’s death row, 4 from Knox County

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Inmates from across Tennessee are still waiting on death row, 57 to be exact. Some sentenced decades ago, others within the last decade. 

While death row inmates wait for execution, the families and friends of their victims wait, too. The families of 5 victims wait through appeals and execution changes for what one mother has called “justice.” 

From Knox County, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the state, 4 inmates await execution. From East Tennessee, 14 inmates convicted of crimes in the jurisdiction. Their crimes spanning nearly 50 years, the first in 1985 and the fourth, 2007. 

Lemaricus Davidson, sentenced 2009 

Lemaricus Davidson was sentenced to death back in 2009 for his role in the murders of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom.

Christian and Newsom went missing in January 2007 in North Knoxville. Newsom’s burned body was found the next day by the railroad tracks near Davidson’s home. He had been brutally raped and shot three times. Later, Christian’s vehicle as found down the street and police found a bank envelope in her back seat with Davidson’s fingerprint.

Police then searched Davidson’s house and found Christian’s body in a garbage can in the kitchen, beaten, raped and suffocated to death.

Davidson was found guilty in October 2009 of multiple counts of first-degree felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, especially aggravated robbery, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated rape, facilitation of aggravated rape, and theft of property. He was then given two death sentences. The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld the verdict and sentences in 2015. 

In other appeals, Davidson’s defense asked the court for relief from his conviction and sentence, one of the main arguments, pre-trial publicity. 

Then, in February 2019, a judge rejected a call for a new trial from one of the men convicted in the murders of Channon Christian and Chris Newsom. 

Judge Walter Kurtz in the memo explained in the dismissal that some of the claims were substantive and others involved issues without proof. 

Davidson is one of seven death row inmates with two death sentences. 

Dennis Suttles, sentenced 1997

Dennis Suttles was convicted of premeditated first-degree murder and sentenced to death for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Gail Rhodes at a Taco Bell in South Knoxville. Her 15-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend witnessed the crime, according to background provided in a 2010 appeal

According to WATE 6 On Your Side reports at the time, Suttles previously plead guilty to one count of felonies assault with bodily injury and three counts of assault with intent to commit first-degree murder.  Rhodes killing, two years after Suttles got parole. 

Before the murder, Suttles and Rhodes were estranged. Reports of bruising on Rhodes’ neck were introduced as evidence during Suttles trial, “that looked like fingerprints.” After their breakup, Rhodes’ was scared of retaliation and escorted to her car and home by coworkers for safety from Suttles. 

The night of the stabbing, Suttles followed Rhodes’ to the South Knoxville Taco Bell, he confronted her in the parking lot threatening her daughter, “Get back or I’ll kill her.” 

Rhodes attempted to get away when Suttles cut her throat and stabbed her multiple times. 

Her daughter testified during the trial after witnessing the stabbing, “He cut her on her neck. He slit her neck all to pieces. And he stabbed her in the face and cut her lip and he cut her hair and he cut her body…”

Then, again, after his death sentence, Rhodes’ daughter spoke to WATE 6 On Your Side cameras: “It’s justice, not vengeance anymore. I’m very happy with it. I’m sorry for his family, but they can go see him. I can’t see my momma [anymore].” 

Christa Pike, sentenced 1996

Christa Pike was sentenced to death row for the brutal stabbing murder of a fellow Knoxville Job Corps Center, Colleen Slemmer. 

Pike, and others, lured Slemmer into a remote area of the UT Ag Campus, where she was “brutally beaten,” according to investigators at the time. 

“There were times she did try to get up and run, but was pushed back down,” said an investigator speaking to media in 1995. 

Investigators say Pike took a piece of Slemmer’s skull as a souvenir. 

Pike would eventually lead investigators down the path she took the night Slemmer was killed, giving more information about the crime. She originally said she killed because of santanic beliefs but investigators later found she believed Slemmer to be involved in a love triangle. 

Pike once wanted to stop her appeals process and be executed but changed her mind. Last year, the court of criminal appeals upheld a judge’s decision to not allow Pike to continue her appeals. 

Terry Lynn King, sentenced 1985

Terry Lynn King was convicted of killing Diana Smith in 1983, by shooting her and then dumping her body in the water off Asbury Road in Knoxville. Her body was found by investigators several days later. 

When confronted about the crime, King admitted to killing Smith and led investigators to the spot where he left her body. The find then led investigators to a remote spot in Grainger County where King and a friend, Randall Joe Sexton buried the body of another man. 

According to evidence presented during the trial, Smith accused King of raping, he responded “he knew what he would do,” and put Smith into the trunk of her own car. He took her to Sexton’s home and shared what he had done, then together, they went to the remote quarry area in Knox County. 

King shot Smith at close range using Sexton’s rifle then, took Smith’s car and other items. 

King and Sexton were co-defendants in the trial for her murder. 

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