The shocking mystery of the death of Jessica Chambers, the Mississippi teenager who was found by first responders on a highway with burns on more than 93 percent of her body on December 6, 2014, is about to be revisited in a trial this September — and during Oxygen’s “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” on September 15 at 7/6c.
Jessica Chambers’ horrific death rocked the nation. A former cheerleader, Chambers had ambitions of becoming a nurse. Rumors that she sold marijuana and dated a gang member surged in the aftermath of her death, when Chambers’ life became subject to just as much intense scrutiny as the mystery of her death, which occurred at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, an hour or so away from Courtland.
But nobody really knows what happened that fateful night.
In the October 2017 trial against Quinton Tellis, no verdict was reached. Many things have happened since that mistrial, but the crime scene, described as “chaotic…a madhouse,” still has some crucial bits of evidence that may prove useful in the upcoming retrial:
Perhaps surprisingly, the murder victim was able to provide substantial evidence in her last moments alive.
Former Courtland Volunteer Fire Chief Cole Haley recalled how Chambers, who was found standing in the road with the car burning beside her, couldn’t speak clearly — for a sickening reason. The inside of her mouth was charred black.
“I was face to face with her, and you could barely understand her,” said Haley, according to the New York Daily News.
“Her face was fried out like she had stuck it in a light socket. And she had black all over her face. Her body was severely burned,” said Haley in his testimony during the trial in 2017.
But in her last moments, Chambers was able to name someone, as belabored as her speech may have been.
“Eric set me on fire,” she reportedly said to first responders on the scene when asked what happened.
“Who did this to you?” asked Daniel Cole, Director of Emergency Operations in the county.
“Eric,” said the 19-year-old, who did not give a last name or answer to other questions. One responder said it could have been “Derrick,” but most heard Eric. All she could say was that she felt cold.
An Unidentified Person
Daniel Cole, director of Panola County (MS) Emergency Operations, read part of his report out while being cross-examined at trial that said he saw a suspicious person — an “older black male” — noting the “tag number.”
Volunteer firefighter Brandie Davis testified during the trial that he also heard the name “Eric” when he asked Chambers who burned her.
He also said that he saw a “suspicious person” in the area. While he was not able to make contact with this person, he did note the license plate number, according to WMC-TV, an NBC affiliate in Memphis, Tennessee.
Will Turner, another firefighter, said that the black man approached him, and that though he asked the man to leave several times, the man just gave him a “blank stare.” He asked Davis to note the tag number, presumably off the car.
Who was this mysterious person? Were they an unwitting witness — or somehow tied to the fatal burning?
Her Cellphone And A Mystery Lighter
Investigators found burned items at the crime scene, including parts of a cell phone. Prosecutors later claimed that it contained evidence showing that Chambers had repeatedly refused Tellis for sex over texts.
The Panola County Sheriff’s Lt. Edward Dickson confirmed in his testimony that he found a phone belonging to Chambers, and some burned clothing. He also said they found a lighter that was so “rusty” it could not be sent to the crime lab, and a cigarette butt that they thought belonged to a firefighter.
While her keys were missing the night Jessica Chambers was found near her burning car, they would later be found down the route, a few hundred yards away from the crime scene, also on Herron Road. Jerry King testified that he found the keys in a ditch near his house two days after the death of Chambers, attached to a pink string and a Chambers auto repair tag.
When his girlfriend encouraged him to call it in — he had brought them home because they were “shiny” — the responding deputy asked him to place it where he found them, and took photos.
Logically, someone might have taken the keys from the crime scene to later discard them — but who?
Gasoline On Jessica’s Clothes
An expert testified that they detected gasoline on a piece of clothing from the crime scene — but wasn’t able to detect the same substance on other items submitted to forensic analysis.
Why wasn’t gasoline also detected on other items from the scene? How much gasoline would one need to set an entire car on fire? And where did the gasoline come from? The answers to these questions may be crucial to figuring out how the fire started.
Watch Oxygen’s “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” on September 15 at 7/6c to learn more about the case.
[Photo: Handout photo to Oxygen]