The capital murder trial of 28-year-old Quinton Verdell Tellis continues on Thursday. Prosecutors say he’s responsible for the horrific death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers. Court is expected to start at approximately 10am ET/9am CT in Batesville, Mississippi. At some point in the day, jurors are expected to be brought to important areas outside of court.
A grand jury indicted Tellis for lighting Chambers’ car on fire, leading to her death. Authorities said they discovered her covered in burns on almost her entire body, on December 6, 2014. The charge is capital murder because the victim passed away because of the alleged commission of third-degree arson. District 17 District Attorney John Champion has said prosecutors won’t pursue the death penalty, so if Tellis is found guilty, he will be guaranteed to be spend the rest of his life in prison. Charged as a habitual offender for three prior convictions, he would not have a chance at parole.
Champion said during his opening statement that phone records place Tellis at the crime. The defendant had known the victim for two weeks, and testimony would show that they hung out with a mutual friend on the morning of December 6, 2014. Defense lawyer Darla Palmer said there is too much doubt to convict Tellis. Records place him five miles away from the arson, she said. Whatever records prosecutors had putting him at the crime could still not give a precise whereabouts on his location. Also, Chambers told first responders at the scene that a man named Eric did this her to. Champion tried to undermine this last detail during his opening statement, saying that the victim’s esophagus was so injured that it distorted her speech.
Testimony continued on Tuesday. Daniel Cole, who is now the Director of Panola County Emergency Operations, took the stand first. He was one of the first people on the scene of the crime. He testified to questioning Chambers, who had suffered catastrophic burns, and she struggled to even give her name. According to his testimony, Cole thought she gave names like, “Catina, Katrina, Courtney. He asked her who did this, and Chambers blamed the crime on Eric. He testified to there being a suspicious “older black male” at the scene.
Volunteer firefighter Brandie Davis testified next. Like every other first responder before him, he said that Chambers said a man named Eric did the crime. Another volunteer firefighter, Shane Mills, took the stand afterward. He already knew Chambers from before the arson.
Firefighter Will Turner, another first responder, testified after the recess. He said he saw a suspicious man, who was black at the scene, and told him to leave. Turner said the man just star back, so this firefighter made Davis get the license plate off a suspicious vehicle.
Sandra Haley, an emergency medical responder for the volunteer fire department, testified next. She said that Chambers told her that an Eric did this. Her husband James Thomas Haley took the stand after her. A firefighter, he was also at the scene. He said he tried to cover her with a sheet. Chambers has trouble talking, and he had trouble making out her words, she said. During cross-examination, he said that he couldn’t hear Chambers.
Paramedic Casey Austin testified that Chambers suffered 2nd and 3rd degree burns. As with other first responders, Chambers told him that Eric did this, but Austin said her speech wasn’t clear, and she was in mental shock.
Volunteer firefighter Melissa Rogers was another first responder. She testified to never hearing Jessica give her name, but did use it in the written report.
Volunteer firefighter David Gammel said Chambers blamed the crime on Eric, whose last name she didn’t know.
EMT Bradley Dixon testified that Chambers blamed the crime on Eric. She said she was thirsty, but he managed to understand her even though she pronounced the worst “hearsty.”
Paramdeic Joshua Perkins testified that Chambers was badly burnt that he couldn’t start an IV. He testified to hearing the victim tell several people the name of the man responsible: either “Eric” or “Derek.” Under cross-examination, he was made to read his report, where he wrote the name “Eric,” not “Derek.”
Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Daryl House said that Jessica told him that Eric did this to her.
Lt. Edward Dixon of the Panola County Sheriff’s Office testified that he searched the area for anything that could be evidence.
Local man Jerry King lived near the scene of the crime, and testified to finding car keys two days after the arson. He claimed that he recognized these as Chambers’ keys with the help of his wife. Tyler Mills, a crime scene investigator for the Panola County Sheriff’s Office, took the stand last. He said King’s wife, who had been a confidential informant in the past, reached out to him about her husband finding the keys.
#JessicaChambers victim’s keys were put BACK into the ditch to be photographed at spot they were presumed to have been found – DNA transfer?
— Aaron Keller (@AKellerLawNewz) October 11, 2017
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