A woman touted as a key new witness in the retrial of Quinton Tellis on charges he murdered Mississippi teenager Jessica Chambers ultimately provided testimony which could result in an embarrassing setback for the prosecution.
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Sherry Flowers is one of a few new witnesses to take the stand in the re-trial of Tellis. An initial murder trial last year resulted in a hung jury and, therefore, a mistrial.
Flowers, a resident of Courtland, Mississippi, testified Wednesday that she was on the road after dark the evening Jessica Chambers died. That night, an anonymous hitchhiker flagged her down. Flowers testified that when she saw the hitchhiker, she thought it might be a cousin who frequently flags her down for a ride, so she stopped. The hitchhiker approached her driver’s side window; however, she realized as he approached that she did not know him. Flowers testified that the hitchhiker asked her which direction she was going. Flowers said she told him she was going to an acquaintance’s house. The hitchhiker asked her for a ride and to be dropped off at the house of his aunt, Julia Chambers (who is not related to victim Jessica Chambers). Flowers said she knew Julia Chambers as a former hairdresser and agreed to give the hitchhiker a ride on account of her knowing Julia Chambers.
Flowers described the man as an African-American man who appeared to be in his early 20s, or possibly as young as 19, and who had a slight to medium build. Flowers was unable to describe the man’s hair or clothing. She did say the man did not have a deep voice.
The hitchhiker told Flowers he needed to get to the house of Julia Chambers because he heard her house had caught fire. Flowers testified that she ultimately dropped the man off on Highway 51 “across the street, not too far” from Julia Chambers’ house. She testified that the hitchhiker did not speak during the ride. She did not see where the man went after she dropped him off.
Flowers testified that she did not see any emergency lights around the time she picked the man up, during the ride, or on the remainder of the trip afterwards. She was unclear on the exact time of when she picked the man up, but says it was dark outside and that it might have been between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m. She didn’t return to her own home until 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.
Later, Flowers testified she did not desire to be involved with the Jessica Chambers case.
Flowers originally did not speak to law enforcement about what she saw because she did not think it was relevant. However, she did tell her relatives. Eventually law enforcement contacted her around the middle of this year, testimony revealed.
Critically, Flowers did not at any point identify Tellis as the man she picked up.
On cross-examination, Flowers said she met with prosecutors a couple of times before trial. She then re-traced her steps that day. She said she went home to pick up coats right around the time it was getting dark (but couldn’t recall for certain). She was only home for about ten minutes, she testified; from there, she went back out on the road and encountered the hitchhiker.
Prosecutors seemed to suggest the timing was correct for the hitchhiker to have been Tellis and that Tellis was likely making a getaway from the scene where he is accused of setting Chambers and her vehicle on fire. The defense seemed to attack the prosecution’s timing of the events.
Later, Julia Chambers and her daughter Keri Henson testified that Tellis is a distant cousin; however, they said Julia Chambers is not Tellis’s aunt. Tellis had only been to the Julia Chambers home a couple of times in his life, they said.
Under one prosecution theory, Tellis suffocated Jessica Chambers during sex, then drove her car to a remote location and left her inside it. From there, he went to his sister’s house, took her car, took gasoline from his own house, went to the location where he left Chambers in her car, doused her with gasoline, and set her on fire. Chambers survived the attack and was located in a ditch. She tried to communicate with first responders, many of whom say she said the name ‘Eric’ or ‘Derrick’ while attempting to name her attacker. Chambers died several hours after the attack with burns over 98% of her body, authorities have said. A medical examiner testified that Chambers died from soot and smoke inhalation along with thermal injuries from the attack.
[Image via screen capture from the Law&Crime Network.]