BATESVILLE, MS — First responders to the scene where Mississippi teenager Jessica Chambers was found with burns on 93 percent of her body said in court Wednesday morning she was “mentally in shock,” “in a trance,” and that she “looked like a zombie” when she told them a man named Eric set her on fire.
Yet prosecutors began making their case Wednesday as to why 29-year-old Quinton Tellis—and not a man named Eric—is responsible for Chambers’ horrific murder. Tellis has pleaded not guilty.
On the second day of trial in the small Mississippi courthouse jurors heard from a parade of first responders, many of whom were the last people to speak with Chambers before she fell unconscious on December 6, 2014.
Those who spoke to her at the scene of the crime in Courtland testified she said “Eric set me on fire," and prosecutors worked to combat these reports, asking the first responders about Chambers’ health status, what the area around and inside her mouth looked like, how well she was able to speak, and about the volume of her voice and the volume of the two diesel fire trucks surrounding them.
Daniel Cole, the Director of Emergency Operations in the county, wrote a report saying he arrived on the roadside where Chambers’ car was ablaze to find her covered in blankets on the ground with first responders. He said he asked Chambers her name, then asked, “What happened?” and she responded saying, “Eric set me on fire.” Cole testified. He then asked again, “Who did this to you?” Chambers again responded, “Eric.”
In court, however, he also described difficulty hearing her speak.
“It was a very chaotic scene. A lot of noise,” Cole said in court Wednesday, adding the scene was “a madhouse.”
Defense attorney Darla Palmer’s cross examination of first responders focused on their written statements, which were from 12 hours to two days after the incident and before Tellis was named a person of interest. In Tuesday’s opening statements, defense attorney Darla Palmer argued that the testimony from first responders suggests Eric should be on trial instead of her client, saying Jessica Chambers "didn’t mention any other name.” Wednesday, she asked them to read their statements, many of which included, in quotation marks, her statements that "Eric did it" and "Eric set [her] on fire."
Cole read from his report, written 12 hours after the incident.
“I responded to the scene… approached the patient and asked her who she was. She said ‘Jessica,’” Cole read, “She stated multiple times, ‘Eric set me on fire.’”
In court Wednesday, however, Cole said it was loud on the scene, where they were positioned behind a firetruck, and that when he first asked her name upon arriving at the scene, he thought she said her name was Katrina, Tina or Courtney.
Emergency medical responder Brandy Davis also read his statement aloud at the request of defense attorneys, in which Davis reports hearing Chambers say the name ‘Eric.’
“I comforted her and maintained her consciousness. I asked, ‘Who did this to you?’ She replied, ‘Eric.’ I asked again, ‘Baby girl who did this?’ and she replied, ‘Eric,’” Davis said, reading his statement in court.
First responders David Gammill and Sandra Hailey both also testified to hearing the name ‘Eric,’ though none were certain. First responders testified Chambers didn’t give a last name and wouldn’t answer much else. Eventually, all she would say was that she was cold, regardless of the question asked.