There has not been any misconduct that could create prejudice against Quinton Tellis in the Jessica Chambers case, according to a ruling made by Judge Gerald Chatham in Sardis, Mississippi on Monday afternoon after a day-long hearing.
Judge Chatham said he's heard no evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that would prejudice the retrial. Additionally, he said it is not his job to sanction or discipline attorneys for prosecutorial misconduct; that there is another forum for that complaint.
Monday’s hearing was in response to defense attorney Darla Palmer’s allegations of misconduct against District Attorney John Champion, allegations he vehemently denies.
Palmer filed a motion and an affidavit last week that accuses John Champion of pressuring a potential witness, Jalen Caudle, in the case.
The trial of Tellis, accused of burning 19-year-old Jessica Chambers alive in the small town of Courtland, Mississippi in 2014, ended in a hung jury last fall. A retrial is set for September 24. With Monday’s ruling, the retrial is expected to proceed on schedule.
Caudle testified against Champion on Monday morning. Palmer has accused Champion of secretly meeting with Jalen Caudle, who Palmer also represents, at the DeSoto County jail. Caudle is charged with capital murder in a separate case, and is awaiting his trial. Caudle, who maintains he is innocent of the capital murder charge, testified that Champion pressured him to help him in the upcoming trial against Tellis.
“He said he wanted me to get up on the stand and say that Q [Quinton Tellis] told him when he first met Jessica he told her that his name was Eric,” Caudle said.
First responders testified during Tellis’ first trial, which Oxygen covered as part of its upcoming docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,” that Chambers said that “Eric” had set her on fire. It was a key focus of the case. In fact, in Palmer’s opening statement of Tellis’ trial, she said, “Eric is not on trial today, but ladies and gentlemen he should be.”
Caudle testified that he had no idea if Tellis ever went by “Eric.”
Champion, however, also testified at Monday’s hearing and claimed that it was Caudle who offered up the information that Chambers called Tellis “Eric.” After speaking to Caudle, Champion testified he didn’t believe him.
The prosecutor denied any wrongdoing.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Alton Peterson tried to convince Judge Chatham that Champion had, indeed, committed prosecutorial misconduct.
Prosecutor Jay Hale, however, argued on Monday that Caudle lied.
He also revealed that there is new evidence that he feels will be very damning for the upcoming Tellis trial, including a witness that allegedly picked up Tellis on the night of the crime near the scene and close to where Chambers' keys were later found, and drove him to his sister’s home.
Hale hinted that the timing of Palmer’s filing was questionable as it came around the same time that this “damning” evidence fell into the hands of the defense.
Palmer also addressed the court during the closing arguments and said Hale’s allegations about the timing were offensive. Palmer said she was hesitant to file the motion against the DA’s office soon after the April 5, 2018 meeting between Champion and Caudle because she feared repercussions for her other cases involving the DA's office.
“I’m extremely disappointed to be here today and for having to file this motion,” she said, adding that this situation was unlike anything she has experienced in over two decades of practicing law.
She said she believes that Caudle is telling the truth.
Palmer said that before this incident she thought that she had a good, transparent relationship with the prosecution. She asked the judge that Champion be taken off Tellis’ case.
“I would ask that a second office work on the case. It would be the only way to solve this,” Palmer told the judge.
Judge Chatham asked Palmer for more details on why she would need a continuance. Palmer told him she doesn’t trust the district attorney’s office anymore and wants another district attorney on the case.
The judge went to his chambers, and after about twenty minutes returned to state that he has sided with the prosecution, adding that he didn’t see any evidence of prosecutorial misconduct that will prejudice Quinton Tellis in the retrial.