The retrial of the man accused of the burning death of Jessica Chambers took a new twist Wednesday when a woman called to the stand spoke of a mystery hitchhiker she picked up the day of the murder, as graphic details were released on the condition of the 19-year-old’s body.
Quinton Tellis, 29, is being retried on capital murder charges after a jury couldn’t reach a verdict in his first trial last year. Tellis is accused of burning Chambers on a rural backroad in Mississippi in December 2014.
Chambers, a former cheerleader at South Panola High School, had severe burns covering 93 percent of her body after being doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze. She was discovered by first responders emerging from the woods near her burning car wearing only her underwear. The 19-year-old died hours later at a Memphis hospital.
Those emergency workers appeared during the second day of testimony Wednesday, when they recounted what they heard when making contact with the still-alive Chambers.
Quinton Tellis, left, is seen on the second day of his retrial in the burning death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers almost three years ago on Dec. 6, 2014. (Mark Weber /The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool/Family Handout)
“You could hear her say it sounded like Eric,” Pope Firefighter David Gammell said of the teenager’s dying words. Paramedic Josh Perkins said that Chambers was not able to enunciate due to her severe injuries at the time, and that it sounded either like “Eric or Derick.” A speech pathologist also testified that Chambers was so severely burned that she wouldn’t have been able to produce “articulate” sound.
But it was Panola County Sheriff’s Deputy Darrell House who may have provided the most detail. He testified that Chambers told him more than just a name when he asked who did this, FOX13 reported.
“Best I could understand is black male,” House told the court when he asked Chambers about her assailant. The defense contends prosecutors have the wrong man on trial.
Quinton Tellis attends his retrial in Batesville, Miss., on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (Mark Weber /The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool)
Several of the emergency workers also described Chambers’ wounds in graphic detail.
“Skin was hanging off of her lips (and) out of her nose,” emergency medical technician Bradley Dixon testified. “Her eyelashes and eyebrows were gone. The hair on top of her head was a big singe-ball.”
Testimony on Wednesday also included a woman who did not appear in Tellis’ first trial, but said that she picked up a hitchhiker the night that Chambers was killed.
Lead prosecutor John Champion speaks during the retrial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville, Miss., on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018. (Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool)
Sherry Flowers didn’t identify Tellis in court and agreed with a prosecutor that she didn’t know whom she picked up. But she did tell the court that a man flagged her down and she stopped because she believed it might be her cousin.
It wasn’t, but she agreed to pick up the man whom she described as a black male appearing to be about 20 years old and having a small to medium build. Tellis, who is 5-foot-9, was 26 at the time.
“Skin was hanging off of her lips (and) out of her nose. Her eyelashes and eyebrows were gone. The hair on top of her head was a big singe-ball.”
Flowers did not initially come forward to investigators, and when asked why, said in court, “I couldn’t remember and I thought it was irrelevant.”
Still, prosecutors sought to connect the ride to Chambers’ death, suggesting it was the right time for Tellis to be heading away from Chambers’ car before he returned to burn it. Prosecutors also called witnesses who lived at the destination the hitchhiker cited, who said they were cousins of Tellis.
The defense disputed the timing, and Flowers acknowledged she wasn’t sure what time she made the trip, saying only, “I know I picked someone up.”
Lt. Edward Dickson testifies on the second day of the retrial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville, Mississippi. (Mark Weber/The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool)
Flowers had also picked up the hitchhiker close to a location where a sheriff’s investigator testified that Chambers’ keys were discovered in a ditch two days after her death. The defense objects to the keys being entered into evidence because officials can’t prove where the keys were during that time.
On Thursday, jurors were scheduled to tour locations involved in the crime and hear more testimony.
Fox News’ Cristina Corbin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.