Jessica Chambers, the 19-year-old former cheerleader whose tragic 2014 death in her small hometown sent shockwaves around the country, has yet to see justice, with the second trial ending this week in yet another mistrial.
District Attorney John Champion thinks that the question of “Eric” or “Derrick” was partly to blame for lack of verdict. First responders swore that Jessica Chambers uttered a word sounding like “Eric” or “Derrick” when asked at the crime scene about the perpetrator.
"I believe the firefighters heard something, and it went viral. They're good people, they really are, and they do a volunteer service, and I'm not going to sit here and degrade any of them for what they said," said the DA, according to the Clarion Ledger.
At the first trial, Agent Tim Douglas testified that he does believe that Jessica Chambers did say a name that sounded like “Eric” or Derrick.” A new witness at the retrial, speech pathologist Dr. Carolyn Higdon was called to cast doubt on what first responders believed Jessica said. Dr. Higdon testified that she did not believe that someone with Chambers’ level of damage, which included more than 90 percent of her body covered in burns, would have been able to speak at all.
Nonetheless, investigators did a comprehensive search for everyone named Eric or Derrick in Panola County and the surrounding areas. One of those men was Courtland resident Derrick Holmes, the person Tellis had mentioned to investigators just days after Jessica’s death. Tellis said he thought Holmes was stalking Chambers. Holmes, now 26, is a registered sex offender, after being convicted of exploitation of children in 2012.
On the third day of the retrial, investigator Barry Thompson of the Panola County Sheriff’s Department testified that investigators looked into 15 people, in particular, who were named “Eric” or “Derrick” but none were good leads.
But, in the end, all the Erics and Dereks that were tracked down, including Holmes, were eliminated as suspects.
It was at the first trial that a detailed explanation of how Derrick Holmes was eliminated was offered. Agent Douglas explained to jurors that Holmes’ alibi checked out, and he was indeed at home at the time of the crime.
"His mother had a medical issue, and I'm telling you… he was at the house rubbing his mother's feet at the time Jessica was burning in her vehicle," said Agent Douglas to defense attorney Alton Peterson during his cross examination.
In the first trial, Agent Douglas disclosed how he had questioned Derrick Holmes over the course of a few days. He said that he also interviewed Holmes’ mother, brothers and a few people who were standing in the yard.
“The cell phone data did not support that,” said John Champion, of any potential involvement of Derrick Holmes, in the docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” on Oxygen Saturdays at 7/6c.