The second day of Quinton Tellis’ retrial opened in Mississippi on Wednesday with testimony from multiple first responders, who described in horrifying detail how Jessica Chambers was burned beyond recognition when she stumbled out of the woods in 2014 after being set on fire.
Tellis, 29, is being retried on capital murder charges, after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict last year.
A firefighter who was on the scene on December 6, 2014, told the court that the 19-year-old’s body was completely covered in burns and ‘almost looked like shoe leather.’
‘Her face itself…she was unrecognizable,’ the first responder said from the stand. ‘There was black charring.’
Day two: Quinton Tellis, 29, is pictured in Mississippi court Wednesday on Day 2 of his second trial. He is accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers by setting her on fire in 2014
Jessica’s mother, Lisa, is pictured in the courtroom during first responders’ testimony Wednesday
According to the witness, when another firefighter asked Jessica who did this to her, she responded with what sounded like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek,’ but it was a struggle for her to speak.
Ben Chambers, Jessica’s father, began sobbing in the courtroom while listening to the gut-wrenching testimony.
An EMT who administered first aid to Jessica told the jury that the first thought that came to his mind when he saw the victim’s condition was that they needed a medical helicopter.
‘Skin was hanging off of her lips [and] out of her nose,’ the paramedic recounted. ‘Her eyelashes and eyebrows were gone. The hair on top of her head was a big singe-ball.’
He added that Jessica attempted to speak but her voice was raspy and it was nearly impossible to make out the words she was trying to utter.
The EMT said he heard Chambers say ‘her-see,’ which he took to mean ‘thirsty,’ and ‘ole,’ which he thought stood for ‘cold.’
He also said he heard the teenager say ‘eh-wih,’ which he took to mean ‘Eric.’
Next up on the witness stand was yet another first responder, who said he was surprised to have learned that the victim was only 19.
‘She didn’t look like a 19-year-old girl laying there,’ he said, adding that he thought at the time she was between 40 and 50 years old.
The court also heard this morning from two Panola County Sheriff’s deputies, who both testified that when they asked the victim to name her attacker, she said what sounded like ‘Eric.’
Chambers could not say the man’s last name but indicated that it was not her boyfriend.
When asked whether the assailant was black or white, she responded with what sounded like ‘black,’ according to one of the deputies.
The defense has previously emphasized that multiple emergency workers heard the dying Chambers say someone named ‘Eric’ attacked her, calling the prosecution’s evidence ‘speculation’ or ‘unreliable.’
Jurors heard testimony from Jessica’s mother, Lisa Chambers (seen left on the witness stand), who talked about the teen’s final days
Jessica’s best friend, Lakesha Meyer, testified about meeting Tellis for the first time, just a few days before the deadly attack
Dr. Carolyn Higdon, a speech language pathology expert, told the court that based on Jessica’s injuries, the woman would have been unable to utter the names ‘Eric’ or ‘Derrick’
Ben Chambers, father of Jessica Chambers, is seen in the courtroom on the first day of the retrial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville Tuesday
Tellis faces another murder indictment in the 2015 stabbing death of another woman in Monroe, Louisiana. He’s already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of her debit card.
The 29-year-old defendant is currently serving a prison sentence in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary charge.
Prosecutors say cellphone locations, video, DNA on a keychain and Tellis’ statements link him to Chambers’ death. A new witness may testify she picked up Tellis that night near where Chambers was burned.
‘Once you hear all the evidence the state offers, you’re going to have plenty of evidence to convict him of capital murder,’ Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told jurors in his opening statement Monday.
Defense attorney Darla Palmer urged jurors in her opening statement to disregard evidence about cellphone locations that she said can’t prove Tellis and Chambers were in exactly the same place.
Deputy Prosecutor Jay Hale holds up a picture of Jessica Chambers in court Tuesday
Defense attorney Darla Palmeron gives an opening statement during Day 1 of the retrial
Tellis’ first trial in 2017 ended in a hung jury because the panel could not reach a verdict
‘This evidence is always going to show, it’s always going to say Eric did it, no matter what the state does to diminish that, and we would ask that you find Quinton not guilty.’
Hale said investigators had interviewed many people named Eric or Derek but ruled all of them out. He said that after the inquiry reached a dead end, investigators re-examined Tellis who had been an early suspect.
Hale said investigators focused on him after he changed his story and admitted he had been with Chambers later on the Saturday of her death.
‘Quinton Tellis had not been truthful to investigators,’ Hale said.
On the first day of testimony, the jury heard from Jessica’s mother, Lisa Chambers, who described in detail the last few days in her daughter’s life, reported WREG.
Next up on the stand was Jessica’s best friend Lakesha Meyer, who recounted how she first met Tellis a few days before Chamber’s death, and how the 19-year-old introduced the man as just a friend.
Jessica suffered burns to 98 per cent of her body and later died from her injuries
After a break, Dr. Carolyn Higdon, a speech language pathology expert, took the witness stand, telling the court that based on her analysis of autopsy photos showing extensive damage to the victim’s mouth, larynx and lungs, and her conversations with Chambers’ doctor, the young woman would have been unable to utter the names ‘Eric’ or ‘Derrick.’
That testimony could help undercut a key defense argument — that multiple EMTs heard a dying Chambers say someone named ‘Eric’ attacked her. Defense attorneys urged jurors to trust that testimony — a foundation of their arguments in the first trial.
Tellis has always insisted that he is innocent, telling police in the interrogation room, even after being threatened with the death penalty if it went to trial: ‘I told the truth. I didn’t kill Jessica. It ain’t even in my heart to kill nobody.’
His family claim that the police are simply looking for someone to blame in the case, which has become a highly charged racial issue after Tellis, who is black, was arrested for the death of the pretty, white cheerleader.
Chambers told her mother, Lisa, she was going out to get something to eat at around 5.15pm, on December 6, 2014.
Speaking to the producers of the new docu-series ‘Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,’ which premiered September 15 on Oxygen, Lisa said she called Jessica while she was out to see what time she would be home.
Tellis (left) also faces another murder indictment in Louisiana, where he is accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao (right), a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student
‘I called her and she said ill be home in a little while Momma, but I love you.
‘I told her I loved her too. She said, ‘See you in a little bit.’
‘That’s the last I heard from her.’
Chambers later stumbled out of the woods near her hometown of Courtland, Mississippi, after she and her car were set on fire.
The last time Lisa Chambers saw Jessica alive was at the hospital. Her daughter had suffered burns to 98 per cent of her body and was barely clinging on to life.
The volunteer firefighters and first responders who found Jessica were shocked at the state of her injuries, with one describing her as resembling a ‘zombie.’
He said that one of his fellow firefighters had asked her who had done this to her.
‘She said “Eric did this.” We were all kinda stunned.
During the investigation, police interviewed several people called Eric or Derek, but none were charged.
After Tellis was arrested, prosecutors told the court last year that Jessica may have been trying to say another name but her throat and mouth were so badly burned that it only appeared to sound like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek.’
Prosecutor John Champion said during the first trial that Tellis thought he suffocated Chambers while they were having sex before he drove her car to a back road.
Prosecutors also showed a number of text messages, which appeared to show Tellis, who was from the same neighborhood as the victim and attended her high school years earlier, pestering Jessica for sex.
After he believed he’d choked her to death, Champion said that Tellis ran to his sister’s house nearby, jumped in his sisters’ car, stopped to pick up gasoline from a shed at his house and torched Chambers’ car and her.
Tellis also faces another murder indictment in Louisiana, where he is accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Tellis will not return to Louisiana to face the charges or an indictment until the conclusion of his case in Mississippi because of the extradition agreement.