First responders testify to hearing Jessica Chambers say 'Eric' burned her
PANOLA CO, MS (WMC) - Quinton Tellis' murder trial continued Wednesday after getting off to a shocking start as graphic details of the case were shared publicly for the first time.
The second day of testimony started similarly to the first day. First responder after first responder testified that Jessica Chambers told them the person who killed her was named "Eric." Prosecutor John Champion told the jury during opening statements that this would happen, but he also said he would show the jury evidence that would change their minds. So far, it's unclear what that evidence will be.
Tellis is accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers in 2014 by setting her on fire and leaving her to die.
Seth Cook, a volunteer firefighter in Courtland, MS, was the first on the stand Wednesday. He said it took his crew anywhere from two to five minutes to reach the car that was reportedly on fire.
When they arrived, Cook said he saw a silhouette of a person about 30-40 feet away. When the figure got closer, he realized it was a woman with frayed hair and no clothing. He described Chambers as "dazed, in a trace, and had trouble walking."
Cook went to school with Jessica Chambers, but admitted he was unable to identify her due to the burns that covered her body.
When Daniel Cole arrived on the scene after Cook, he said Chambers was lying on a blanket.
When she spoke, he noticed there was soot around her nose and mouth and it was hard to understand her.
When she told him her name, Cole said he originally heard 'Katrina,' but then was able to decipher 'Jessica.'
Due to her condition and noise from the firetrucks, Cole said he laid down next to her and asked "Who did this?"
After multiple attempts, Cole said he was able to hear Jessica say, "Eric set me on fire."
The prosecution then showed the jury photos of Chambers' condition from the day she was set on fire.
Brandie Davis, another firefighter, backed up much of Cole's testimony. He also spoke to Jessica and was able to get her name and the name "Eric" when he asked who burned her.
Davis described first- and second-degree burns over Jessica's body, "Not a whole lot we could do."
Davis said he took note of a suspicious person in the area and while he did not make contact with this person, he was able to write down a license plate number.
When another firefighter, Shane Mills, arrived on the scene, he said he saw Cole on the ground talking to Chambers and holding her hand.
"One of the worst things you can imagine," he said. "I can't picture it for y'all."
Mills described being scared because they didn't know who had set Jessica on fire. He recalled stepping away to catch his breath.
"When you see something like that, me personally, I can't just hover over something like that," he explained.
Mills said he could not hear Chambers' faint voice while Cole talked with her.
Will Turner was also at the scene when Jessica was found. He helped Chambers to the ground before working to extinguish the car fire.
Turner said he spoke to a man he thought was suspicious at the scene. He said the man kept looking back into the woods toward the direction of the car. Turner threatened to call law enforcement if the man didn't leave the scene.
Sandra Hailey was another firefighter who spoke with Chambers and struggled to hear what she said. She did hear her name and that "Eric" burned her.
Casey Austin, a paramedic who worked on Chambers, said the medical team had trouble inserting an IV into Chambers' arm due to the extent of her burns.
Austin spoke with Jessica as she was being assisted, but he said eventually all of her responses were, "I'm cold."
On the stand, Melissa Rodgers supported the statements of the other first responders. Rodgers said she'd never seen anything like it in her time.
David Gammel discussed the extent of Chambers' injuries. He said he was responsible for setting up a landing zone for the helicopter to land.
Next on the stand, EMT Bradley Dickson spoke about what he saw when he responded to the scene where Jessica Chambers was burned. He said his first thought was that they needed to call a helicopter.
Dickson said Chambers spoke three words to him, but admitted he had trouble understanding what she said. Those three words were "Eric," "cold," and "thirsty." He added that it's common for burn victims to be thirsty and cold.
Paramedic, Joshua Perkins said Chambers answered his questions, too, but her voice was garbled. Still, he understood her when she gave her name and the name of the person who burned her.
"I remember clearly understanding her name, Jessica," Perkins said. "She said Eric, or tried to say Eric, did it to her."
Deputy Darryl House, who was on duty that night, also testified that he heard her say "Eric" killed her. Deputy Chuck Tucker, a 12-year veteran on the force, supported that testimony.
Tucker said he knew Jessica and her father before the night she was burned.
"It was nerve-racking to see somebody you knew that was burned like that. She had skin hanging all over her and her face and her hair was singed. It was bad," Tucker said.
Prosecutor John Champion then asked Tucker if he'd ever seen anything like that before, to which he replied, "No. Not while they were still alive."
He continued, "I asked her who did this, and she said, 'Eric.' I asked her, 'Eric who?' But, she didn't know."
Tucker said he reported that information to his superiors, and they asked if Eric was white or black. Tucker went back to ask Chambers, and she told him Eric was black.
Panola County Sheriff's Department Lt. Over Investigations Edward Dickson testified about a phone found near the burned car. They were later able to confirm that the phone did belong to Jessica Chambers. They also found burned clothing nearby.
Champion submitted the pictures Dickson took of the cellphone and burned clothing as evidence in the case. He also submitted pictures of the burned vehicle that was found at the scene.
The court took their afternoon recess before the defense cross-examined Dickson.
Once the defense began its cross-exam after recess, the attorneys questioned Dickson about a lighter found at the scene. Dickson said it was so rusty it could not be sent to the crime lab. There was also a cigarette butt found at the crime scene, but Dickson said a firefighter told him he threw the butt on the ground earlier.
Dickson said that the his main purpose at the crime scene the night of the incident was to gather and collect evidence at the scene.
Jerry King took the stand next. King found a set of keys in a ditch near his house two days after Jessica Chambers died. It was later determined that the keys belonged to Jessica Chambers.
Tyler Mills, who works for the Panola County Sheriff's Department, took the stand next. King's girlfriend called Mills to come to his house when he found the Jessica Chambers' keys. Mills put the keys that King found into an evidence bag.
Mills took the keys and photographed them in the location King said found them. The defense argued that since the keys were taken by King from their original spot, it wasn't possible to definitively say that the keys were found in the exact spot that Mills later photographed them. The defense also said that Mills was part of the narcotics unit and not homicide. Mills agreed, and the defense then pointed out that Mills had never been part of a homicide investigation.
The prosecution said that Mills was collecting evidence the same way he does in narcotics investigations. Mills agreed.
Major over Investigations for the Panola County Sheriff's Office Barry Thompson took the stand next. Thompson was shown a map of Courtland, Mississippi, and he showed the jury the area where the crime took place and where Jessica's keys were found. He also pointed out where Quinton Tellis' sister's house was located, the M & M Grocery Store, and Quinton Tellis' house. These are all locations the jury will be taken to.
On Thursday at 9 a.m. when court resumes, the jury will be taken to the various places in Courtland that were shown in court Wednesday.
A juror was dismissed from the trial after making a Facebook saying he was unhappy about being chosen. There are now six men and six women on the jury.
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