A woman says she picked up a hitchhiker the night a Mississippi woman was fatally burned, but she’s unsure whether it’s the man prosecutors have on trial.
Sherry Flowers told the Jessica Chambers trial on Wednesday that the man asked to go to the house of local woman Julia Chambers, who he claimed was his aunt, because there was a fire there.
Julia Chambers is not related to the victim but is said to be a distant relative of Quinton Tellis, 29, who is on trial for Jessica’s brutal burning murder in 2014.
Mrs Chambers, who also testified on Wednesday, confirmed the fire department had been called to her home on the evening of Jessica’s death because of a microwave fire.
Sherry Flowers, who picked up a mystery hitchhiker on the night of Jessica Chamber’s death, testifies on the second day of the retrial of Quinton Tellis on Wednesday morning
Jessica Chambers was set on fire in Mississippi back in 2014 and died from smoke inhalation and thermal injuries
Flowers described the hitchhiker as black and in his 20s and said she initially pulled over because she believed it might be her cousin – but realizing her mistake agreed to give the man a lift as she knew Julia Chambers.
But Julia Chambers claimed that it has ‘been a while’ since she saw Tellis and he never appeared at her home the night of the murder.
Flowers refused to identify Tellis as the hitchhiker and agreed with a prosecutor that she didn’t know who she picked up.
She has been brought forward by the prosecution as a new witness – after not coming forward with the information until after Tellis’ first trial, which ended in 2017 with a hung jury.
Tellis is accused of having sex with Jessica Chambers before setting both her and her car on fire.
Quinton Tellis is being re-tried over the death of Chambers after a jury failed to reach a unanimous verdict in 2017
Lead prosecutor John Champion speaks during the retrial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville on Wednesday
Ben Chambers, father of Jessica Chambers, breaks down during testimony as details of daughter Jessica’s death are heard
Still, prosecutors seek to connect the ride’s timing to Chambers’ death. Prosecutors have said Tellis left Chambers’ car before returning to set it and her on fire. The defense disputes the timing.
A firefighter who was on the scene on December 6, 2014, told the court yesterday 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.’
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.
A medical examiner says Chambers’ death was a homicide from soot and smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
Lead prosecutor John Champion speaks to a colleague on the second day of the retrial on Wednesday
Lisa Daugherty, mother of Jessica Chambers, recently took part in a documentary on her daughter’s death
The court also heard yesterday 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.’
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.
‘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.
Judge Gerald Gerald Chatham (right) listens as lead prosecutor John Champion (center) questions witness Lt. Edward Dickson (left)
Defense attorneys Darla Palmer (left) and Alton Peterson (right) chat with Deputy Prosecutor Jay Hale (center) during a recess
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.
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.
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.
Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Chuck Tucker described the brutal nature of Jessica’s wounds when he attended the scene
Lt. Edward Dickson was another of the first responders who described the scene as they found Jessica
Ben Chambers, father of Jessica Chambers, covers his ears during testimony in the trial on Wednesday morning