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Crime News Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers

Deputy Gives New Evidence Jessica Chambers Could Communicate After Being Set On Fire

The dying teen seemed to be able to understand and answer questions in an ambulance on the way to the hospital, Panola County Deputy Sheriff Daryl House testified.

By Beth Karas

Jessica Chambers’s ability to speak took centerstage, again, on the second day of the retrial of Quinton Tellis, accused of setting her and her car on fire in December 2014 in northern Mississippi. A pivotal question for the jury is whether Chambers named her killer when she said that someone named Eric set her on fire. Chambers died hours later in a Memphis hospital. 

Panola County Deputy Sheriff Daryl House testified this morning to a communication from Chambers that was not previously disclosed. When Chambers was in the ambulance, House asked her if her boyfriend did this to her; she said no. At the time of her death, Chambers was dating a man who was incarcerated. Chambers appeared to understand House’s question and was able to answer it, further evidence she was communicating at the scene though her condition deteriorated precipitously by the time she arrived at a Memphis hospital. 

Paramedic Josh Perkins who treated Chambers in an ambulance testified today that her mouth and throat were blackened with soot but were not swollen, and that her airways were open. Perkins, a trained professional in handling medical emergencies, contradicted the State’s expert witness in speech language pathology when he testified that Chambers was alert and, though struggling, said Eric had done this to her. Dr. Carolyn Higdon testified Tuesday that, based on Jessica’s severe burns to her mouth, tongue and throat, she could not have spoken within minutes of the fire. Dr. Hidgon did not treat Chambers.

Deputy Sheriff's Deputy Chuck Tucker (pictured at top) also questioned Chambers when she was in the ambulance and away from the noisy, chaotic crime scene. He told jurors it sounded like Chambers had said Eric had done this to her. When he asked her if Eric was black or white, she replied black. On cross examination by defense attorney Alton Peterson, Tucker said he wasn’t certain Chambers said Eric but he was certain she said black. 

[Photo: Panola County Sheriff's Deputy Chuck Tucker testifies on the second day of the retrial of Quinton Tellis in Batesville, Miss., on Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018; Credit: Associated Press]