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We may be heading into the final stretch of Jessica Chambers retrial. Prosecutors are expected to rest their case Friday, and the defense is scheduled to bring up three witness. Closing arguments could happen late in the day. If so, jurors would deliberate into the weekend. John Champion, District Attorney for the 17th Circuit Court District, told Law&Crime that he doesn’t think this will go into Sunday.
Prosecutors say Quinton Verdell Tellis lit the 19-year-old Chambers on fire back on December 6, 2014. Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale said in opening statements that investigators explored other possible suspects, and that the defendant had no reliable alibi. Defense lawyer Darla Palmer said that no, investigators weren’t thorough enough, and that witnesses on Tellis’ whereabouts were unreliable. She also pointed out that testimony would establish that Chambers repeatedly told first responders that an “Eric” did this to her.
The state is trying to downplay this Eric remark. Speech pathologist Dr. Carolyn Higdon, an expert witness, said Chambers’ burns would’ve rendered her incapable of uttering articulate speech. On Thursday, Dr. William Hickerson testified that her injuries would’ve made it unlikely for her to speak.
“She could’ve made sounds, but not sounds that we would be able to say would be speech,” he said. Hickerson doubled down when Palmer pressed him on his testimony contradicting first responders.
“My momma didn’t raise no liar,” he said.
On Thursday, jurors got a look at the crime scene, first in the daytime, then again at night.
— Cathy Russon (@cathyrusson) September 27, 2018
Tellis’ first trial ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked.
The defense didn’t bring any witnesses last time, but Friday, they are expected to call the defendant’s mother and sister, and a firefighter to the stand.
If closings do happen Friday, we’ll get to see how both sides shaped up their arguments since the last trial. Champion previously argued that Chambers, her mouth badly damaged from burns, might have been trying to say “Tellis” instead of “Eric.” Palmer dismissed that. Her co-counsel Alton Peterson argued that the investigators just weren’t through enough, and didn’t explore all possible leads. For example, investigators failed to look into the presence of a suspicious, unidentified man seen near the fire. Tellis was indicted in the Chambers murder in February 2016, more than a year after the murder, and investigators became fixated on him as a suspect, Peterson said.
Even if Tellis gets acquitted, he’ll still need to deal with a separate case in Louisiana. Cops say that 34-year-old Ming-Chen Hsiao, found dead in her apartment on August 8, 2015, was tortured for her PIN number. They claim Tellis is responsible. He already pleaded guilty in 2016 to the unauthorized use of her debit card, and is currently serving a 10 year sentence for that crime. Eric Hill, his wife’s cousin, told investigators that Tellis admitted to the murder while sharing “war stories,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
Cathy Russon contributed to this report.
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