Day 1: Opening statements conclude, Jessica Chambers' mom takes the stand
PANOLA CO, MS (WMC) - The trial of Quinton Tellis, the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers in 2014, began Tuesday.
Chambers, 19, was found on fire near her vehicle in Courtland, Mississippi on Dec. 6, 2014. She was rushed to a Memphis hospital where she died as a result of the burns that covered 98 percent of her body.
Tellis and Chambers were seven years apart in age, but grew up in the same neighborhood. He was released from prison just two months before Chambers' death. He had served time for felony burglary convictions.
Tellis was developed as a suspect in Chambers' death as they investigated the stabbing death of an exchange student at University of Louisiana-Monroe. Tellis was caught using her debit cards, but was never charged in her murder.
The judge began the day by giving the jury instructions, reminding them that discussing the case with one another before deliberations is prohibited.
In his opening statements, District Attorney John Champion said he anticipates calling about 35 witnesses to the stand. He also said that he will use cell phone data to reveal that Tellis was with Chambers when he said he wasn't.
"He finally admits that Jessica came and picked him up around 5:30," Champion said. "He said, 'She picked me up and we drove to Taco Bell.' Boom, confirming the cell phone data that we have, that they were on top of each other in Batesville."
Watch John Champion's opening statements below:
Tellis' defense attorney, Darla Palmer, said the evidence will show that Chambers was able to speak when she was found by first responders. Palmer said Chambers told firefighters that "Eric" did this to her.
However, Champion said Jessica's throat was so full of soot at that point that she couldn't speak properly.
Watch Darla Palmer's opening statements below:
The jurors were told that during the trial, they will be shown very gruesome photos of Jessica Chambers' burned body.
Lisa Chambers was the first witness that prosecutors called to the stand.
Lisa identified Jessica's keys and talked about the day her daughter died. She also recalled the last time she spoke to Jessica the day she was murdered. Lisa said normally you could barely hear Jessica on the phone because she was playing music or had the windows down, but that was on not the case that day.
"It was very quiet. You couldn't hear the wind blowing or any music. Just her voice," she said. "Somebody was with her."
Watch Lisa Chambers' testimony below:
Kesha Meyer, Jessica's friend, took the stand next.
Meyers said she never heard Jessica refer to Quinton Tellis as Eric, which was the name first responders said Jessica shared on the scene before she died.
Meyers also said that Jessica was selling weed in the six months before she died.
Watch Kesha Meyer's testimony below:
Glenn Williams, who called the fire department when he noticed Jessica Chambers' car on fire, said he thought someone had set the vehicle on fire for insurance money since it was so close to Christmas. He did not know Chambers of Tellis prior to finding her car that night.
Watch Glenn Williams' testimony below:
Courtland Fire Chief Cole Haley took the stand and described the scene as he recalled it.
"When I got there, Jessica came towards me saying, 'Help me, help me, help me,'" he said. "Her hair was fried like she had stuck her finger in a socket. Her face was black, and she was burned all down her body."
The prosecutor asked if Haley ever heard Jessica say the name of who hurt her.
"She tried to say a name and I could not understand what she said," he replied. "To know that there's people out there at that cruel, I was scared to leave my house. I'm still scared to leave my house."
Watch Cole Haley's testimony below:
Jody Morris, a volunteer firefighter, was one of the first people to respond to Williams' call about the car fire.
"There appeared to be a zombie coming out of the woods. I know that sounds harsh, but that's what it looked like. Her hair was completely singed," he said.
Watch Jody Morris' testimony below:
After Morris was finished testifying, court recessed for the day.
The trial will continue at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.
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