Chambers murder trial underway

Quinton Tellis, 29, charged in the Jessica Chambers fatal burning case, is facing life without parole if convicted of the crime. The trial is underway in Panola County.

File Photo

Testimony Wednesday in the trial of a man charged in the burning death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers on Dec. 6, 2014 was hard to hear and family members wept as photos and diagrams of Jessica Chambers were introduced in the courtroom as evidence.

The trial proceedings are being livestreamed by WMC-TV, news partner of the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

In the trial of the man accused in Chambers' death, Quinton Tellis, 29, sat impassively as testimony was given before a sequestered jury in the Panola County Courtroom in Batesville.

Tellis has pleaded not guilty in Chambers' death, a case which has received national attention. If convicted, he faces life without parole. He also faces a murder indictment in Louisiana, where he is accused in the torture death of another young woman.

Circuit Judge Gerald Chatham of Hernando, whose district includes the town of Courtland where Chambers was found nearly burned alive, presided over the trial, which began with jury selection on Monday.

A defense attorney, Darla Palmer, in her opening statement said that Tellis had been wrongly implicated in her death.

District Attorney John Champion said evidence would show that Tellis is the man responsible for Chambers' death.

Jurors heard longtime firefighter and the present Panola County Director of Emergency Operations Daniel Cole give emotional testimony about his first seeing the badly-burned body of Chambers, who was weak but still alive at that point, near the vehicle were her "heavily burned" body had been set ablaze by some type of flammable liquid.

There were two Courtland firefighters nearby and the sound of two diesel engines running, but Cole said he distinctly heard Chambers utter the name "Eric" when he asked Jessica Chambers, "Who did this?"

"I asked her who did this," Cole testified. "I did hear 'Eric set me on fire.' I did hear Eric."

Cole said he had never witnessed a person being so badly burned in all his years of firefighting experience.

"Her lips were constricted," Cole said. "There was blistering over all her body. She had been burned when I got there and she was sitting on a firemen's coat. Her hair was singed and there was soot all around her mouth."

Most of Chambers' clothes had been burned off. She was wrapped in a firefighter's coat. She died approximately four hours later in a Memphis hospital.

Another first responder, firefighter Brandie Davis, also testified that Chambers said "Eric" set her ablaze.

Yet another, Sandra Hailey, a volunteer with the fire department, also said Chambers responded that "Eric" had set her on fire.

"I bent down and said, Honey, who did this to you? All I heard was Eric," Hailey testified.

Champion said the name of the person that Chambers allegedly uttered to first responders might be different than the man he is prosecuting for the crime but evidence in the case "would change your mind."

Cell phone evidence is expected to be introduced that Tellis and Chambers exchanged communication on the last day of Chambers' life.

In another curious exchange on the stand, another witness, Jerry Lee King, told the courtroom he discovered Jessica Chambers' key ring which had apparently been thrown in a shallow ditch not far from the crime scene.

He had given the keychain to his infant daughter to play with after finding it. A shiny object on the chain caught his eye and he picked it up, two days after the incident involving Chambers.

King said his girlfriend, Mary Tyner, noticed a small decal on the pink rope keychain that said Chambers Auto Diesel and Repair, a Courtland body shop.

Tyner called police with the information and King showed authorities where he found the keychain.

Testimony was expected to resume Thursday in Panola County.

Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune. He may be contacted at rlong@desototimestribune.com

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