The trial of Quinton Tellis, accused of burning 19-year-old Jessica Chambers alive in the small town of Courtland, Mississippi, ended in a hung jury last fall. Prosecutors immediately announced their intention to retry the case, currently set for September 24. But a new filing may derail the retrial for the foreseeable future, further delaying the pursuit of justice sought by Jessica’s family and friends.
Tellis’ defense attorney, Darla Palmer, filed a motion and an affidavit yesterday, obtained by Oxygen.com, with explosive accusations of “numerous ethical violations, prosecutorial misconduct [and] potential criminal violations” against prominent district attorney John Champion.
The basis of the motion and supporting affidavit is that Champion allegedly tried to pressure another client of Palmer’s, Jalen Asir Matthews Caudle, charged with capital murder, to testify that Jessica Chambers used to refer to Quinton Tellis as “Eric.”
In the first trial, which Oxygen covered as part of its upcoming docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,”a parade of first responders testified that Jessica Chambers, who was found with burns on 93 percent of her body, responded “Eric” when asked who had set her on fire. She died shortly after.
Palmer, representing Quinton Tellis, said during the trial: “Eric is not on trial today, but ladies and gentlemen he should be.”
In his affidavit, Jalen Caudle, who met Tellis when they were both incarcerated in the Desoto County jail, claims that on April 5, 2018, district attorney John Champion asked to meet with him at the jail in a private office. This meeting was without Palmer’s knowledge.
Champion told Caudle, according to the affidavit, that he was prosecuting his case, and said: “I promise you if you help me, I’ll help you.”
Champion then asked, according to the affidavit, if “there is anything you want to tell me about Quinton’s case?”
Caudle, who says he’s innocent of the capital murder charge, claims in his affidavit that Champion reiterated his point by saying: “I can drop your charges a lot, a whole lot, something to where you can get home a lot sooner. Now, I helped a lot of people and I also sent people away for life who tried to fuck me. So now I’m gone ask you this again. Is there anything you want to tell me about Quinton’s case?”
After Caudle failed to offer incriminating information, the affidavit claims Champion said: “Jalen what about this… Quinton’s nickname was Eric right?”
After Caudle said he didn’t know, Champion allegedly said, “Okay let me help you out… Quinton told you that Jessica called him Eric right? Quinton told you that Jessica called him Eric sometimes because that’s the name Quinton told her when they [Quinton and Jessica] first met.”
The affidavit also states that Champion said Caudle should drop Darla Palmer as his attorney because he wants Caudle to testify against Quinton Tellis and that “will be a conflict of interest.”
“I know a public defender. He is a friend of mine,” said Champion, according to the affidavit. “If you help me, then I promise I won’t send you away for life.”
In the motion filed yesterday, defense attorney Darla Palmer requested that the district attorney’s office be recused from prosecuting the Tellis case, that the retrial scheduled for the fall, be adjourned until the attorney general’s office has been appointed, and that “monetary sanctions/criminal contempt be imposed against District Attorney John Champion.”
The DA’s office told Oxygen.com that it will not comment on this motion and that it will be heard next Monday. Tellis’ next court date is July 9.
"I have no idea why district attorney Champion would go visit Jalen. He had absolutely no permission or authorization from me to speak to my client Jalen," Darla Palmer told Oxygen.com. "The Mississippi rules of professional conduct prohibit one lawyer from visiting or speaking to another lawyer's client without that lawyer's consent."
Added Palmer: "Let's not forget about Jalen. He is a very young man who faces a serious charge. Like Quinton, he asserts his innocence but has now been manipulated into a situation by a district attorney that he did not choose. Champion's behavior shamefully impacts both Jalen and Quinton.“
Beth Karas, a legal analyst and television commentator who has covered the case for Oxygen’s upcoming docu-series, reviewed the motion filed yesterday: “These are troubling allegations, if true, and require a thorough investigation and hearing.”