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Court continues Wednesday in the retrial of Quinton Verdell Tellis. Prosecutors argue he is the person who set 19-year-old Jessica Chambers and her car on fire December 6, 2014 in the small town of Courtland, Mississippi. The defendant faces life in prison if convicted of capital murder. His last trial ended with a hung jury.
In opening statements Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale said cell phone tower evidence will place Tellis in the same area as Chambers at the time of the arson. He described the investigation as thorough, and said authorities followed every lead. Hale also said that Tellis’ alibi at the time before the murder fell apart–“Big” Mike Sanford said he was on a trip to a football game in Nashville.
Defense attorney Darla Palmer said her side will argue that in fact, investigators were not thorough in the probe, and that the prosecutions’ witnesses on Tellis’ whereabouts were unreliable. So was the cell phone tower evidence, she said.
Then there was the matter of “Eric.” Palmer emphasized that volunteer firefighters who found Jessica reported hearing her say that an “Eric” was the one who did this to her. Hale, in discussing the scope of the investigation, told jurors they looked at every Eric or Derek linked to Jessica or her friends. None of them turned up as “viable suspects,” he said.
Palmer said there will be state experts to say that Jessica couldn’t possibly have said that on that day, but reminded the jury, that these witnesses weren’t there at the time.
One of those experts, speech pathologist Dr. Carolyn Higdon, was one of the first to testify for the prosecution Tuesday. She said it would have been impossible for Chambers to say the name Eric.
To articulate sounds, a person’s tongue and soft pallet would have had to work together, she said. Chambers’ burns would have stopped her from doing this, however.
Daniel Cole, Director of Emergency of Operations for Panola County, testified that Chambers tongue was swollen, and it became more difficult for her to talk as time went on.
Cole Haley, one of the volunteer firefighters at the scene, said the victim said her name was “Jessica Tambers,” but she was able to make other statements, and ask for water.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 25, 2018
They and other firefighters, including Jody Morris, testified to hearing Chambers say an “Eric” did this to her. Morris said it was hard to make her out as she spoke.
Prosecutors called up Chambers’ mother Lisa and friend Kesha Myers to help establish the victim’s and defendant’s whereabouts before the murder.
Myers said she hung out with Jessica and Tellis in the morning, but it was the last time she spoke to Chambers. She attempted to called her in the evening. No answer.
Cathy Russon contributed to this report.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]