The Associated Press

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The first of four defendants to be tried in the carjacking, rape and murder of a young Tennessee couple was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday by the same jury that convicted him of murder.

Letalvis Cobbins, 26, had faced the possibility of two death sentences for conviction of first-degree murder and felony. He took a deep breath and then sat down after the jury announced its decision, following less than three hours of deliberation.

The jury convicted Cobbins of Lebanon, Ky., on Tuesday in the January 2007 attack on 21-year-old Channon Christian and her 23-year-old boyfriend Christopher Newsom, both of Knoxville.

Christian's father grimaced as he listened to the sentence.

"The jury didn't do their job. They didn't render the verdict they should (have)," said Hugh Newsom, father of Christopher Newsom. "One consolation is he will not be on the street again."

Earlier Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Leland Price had tried to persuade the jury of six men and six women - brought from Nashville because of extensive pretrial publicity - that the crime "cries out for justice and the maximum punishment this state can impose."

Defense attorney Scott Green countered that Cobbins should be sent to prison for the rest of his life, "never getting out, sitting there to rot and think (about what he has done). He has earned it."

Christian's parents pleaded for a death sentence for the torture their daughter suffered. Cobbins' sisters and cousins from Memphis begged for mercy.

The victims were white and middle class, and the defendants poor and black. Some conservative Internet commentators and white supremacist agitators accused the national media of reverse discrimination by failing to give the case the same attention paid to white-on-black hate crimes.