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Court continues Saturday in the retrial of Quinton Verdell Tellis. Prosecutors say he’s the man who fatally set 19-year-old Jessica Chambers on fire December 6, 2014.
Closings were expected Friday, but the prosecution’s case is ongoing. When they are done, the defense is expected to call three witnesses: Tellis’ mother, Tellis’ sister, and a firefighter.
The defense is trying to show that prosecutors lack evidence to tie Tellis to the murder. During cross-examinations, co-counsel Darla Palmer often emphasizes that first responders found a badly burnt Chambers, and heard she claimed an “Eric” did this to her.
Prosecutors are trying to downplay this detail with the use of expert witnesses. Speech pathologist Dr. Carolyn Higdon testified Tuesday that Chambers’ burns would’ve rendered her unable to make articulate speech. Dr. William Hickerson gave similar testimony Thursday.
“She could’ve made sounds, but not sounds that we would be able to say would be speech,” he said. Hickerson doubled-down on his testimony when Palmer pointed out that he was contradicting first responder testimony about Chambers being able to talk.
“My momma didn’t raise no liar,” he said.
On Friday, jurors saw interview footage involving Tellis and two investigators on November 2, 2015. They pressed him on his whereabouts during Chambers’ death. He previously said he last saw her that morning, but they confronted him with cell phone tower evidence that he was in the same area as her that evening. He said that saw her at a Taco Bell.
Tellis pushed back on the insinuation that he murdered her. He insisted he didn’t have it in him to kill someone.
State’s witness and DNA expert Kathryn Rogers testified about DNA found on Chambers’ car keys. The prosecution is trying to show it belonged to Tellis, but under cross-examination, Rogers acknowledged that testing didn’t’ prove it was his DNA. It simply showed that he could not be excluded.
Prosecutors also brought forward a witness in an attempt to patch up a weakness in the case. In the last trial, co-counsel Alton Peterson told jurors that investigators weren’t thorough enough in looking for evidence. For example, they didn’t look into a suspicious man seen at the location of the Chambers fire. On Friday, Mississippi woman Thelma Taylor testified, and said that man was her husband Willie. She testified to hearing about a helicopter near her daughter’s residence, so she had her husband check it out because she was curious.
The trial is also expected to continue into Sunday.
The first case ended because of a deadlocked jury. Jurors first delivered a verdict, but one of them said they weren’t unanimous about the decision. The judge sent them back into deliberate. They returned with a not guilty verdict, but polling showed they still disagreed. The jury had to be unanimous. Confusion reigned until Judge Gerald Chatham declared a mistrial.
Now, almost a full year later, Tellis is expected to finally hear his fate. Or he could face another deadlocked jury. One way or another, however, he will still have to face an unrelated murder charge out in Louisiana. Police say he tortured 34-year-old Ming-Chen Hsiao for the PIN to her debit card. Tellis previously pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of the object, but Ouachita Parish prosecutors put their murder case on hold pending his retrial.
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