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Deliberations are expected to begin Monday at 10 a.m. EST in the Jessica Chambers murder trial. Jurors in Panola County, Mississippi will decide whether or not Quinton Verdell Tellis fatally set her on fire December 6, 2014. The defendant is charged with capital murder. As District Attorney John Champion said in closing arguments Sunday, prosecutors aren’t arguing that he intended to kill her. Instead, they claim he caused her death in the commission of another crime–third-degree arson.
Volunteer firefighters testified to finding a badly burnt Chambers after responding to call of a car fire. They said she named an “Erik” or “Derek” as the person who did this to her. Defense lawyer Darla Palmer said seven firefighters and two law enforcement officers made this claim.
In opening statements, Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale said that the investigation started with the name “Erik.” They looked for every man who had that name, and was connected to Jessica or her friends. After a while, they started looking outside Panola County to track down leads. Months passed, however, and there were no viable suspects. Authorities took a second look at a background figure in the case: Tellis.
Prosecutors argued that cell phone tower evidence showed him to be in the same area as Chambers during the crime. They interviewed him several more times. He initially denied being with Jessica that morning, but confronted with evidence he was near her, he changed his story, and said he met her at a Taco Bell.
Testimony showed that Tellis and Chambers knew each other for about two weeks leading up to her death. Kesha Myers, a mutual friend, said that they hung out on the morning of December 6.
Investigators believed they had their man, but defense co-counsel Alton Peterson said in closing arguments that that they didn’t. He said they arrived at Tellis as a suspect, and “worked backwards.” For her part, Palmer said they didn’t do a good enough job eliminating other Erics as possible suspects.
#JessicaChambers defense: The state checked Chambers Eric/Derek contacts out on Facebook. Why did the state not swab those people for DNA? State downloaded a database to check for Eric/Derek. How did they search? “No; we used it to search against names we already had.”
— Aaron Keller (@AKellerLawCrime) September 30, 2018
The prosecution spent quite some time attempting to downplay the “Eric” detail. Expert witnesses were brought up to show that it would’ve been physically impossible for Jessica to say anything to investigators.
“She could’ve made sounds, but not sounds that we would be able to say would be speech,” testified Dr. William Hickerson on Thursday.
He doubled-down when pressed by Palmer during cross-examination.
During closings on Sunday, Champion suggested that the “Eric” name might have spread after being said by one of the first responders. He construed this as a good-faith error made by people trying to help Jessica.
Palmer and Peterson asked the jury to give more weight to the experiences and testimony of the first responders.
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