A woman says she picked up a hitchhiker the night a Mississippi cheerleader Jessica Chambers was burned to death – in a development that could be critical in solving who killed her.
Sherry Flowers told her alleged killers’ trial that she picked up a man not far from where Chambers was found dying.
She said the man asked to be taken to the house of a relative of the man currently on trial for killing her – but said she can’t remember if it was the defendant Quentin Tellis, 29.
Ms Flowers has been brought forward by the prosecution as a new witness – after not coming forward with the information until after Tellis’ first trial, which ended in 2017 with a hung jury.
Tellis is accused of having sex with Jessica Chambers before setting both her and her car on fire.
Flowers told the court that the hitchhiker asked to be taken to the home of Julia Chambers, who is a distant relative of Tellis.
Mrs Chambers also testified and claimed Tellis had never made it to her home – but confirmed the fire department had been called to her house on the evening of Jessica’s death because of a microwave fire.
Flowers described the hitchhiker as black and in his 20s and said she initially pulled over because she believed it might be her cousin – but realizing her mistake agreed to give the man a lift as she knew Julia Chambers.
But Julia Chambers claimed that it has ‘been a while’ since she saw Tellis and he never appeared at her home the night of the murder.
Flowers refused to identify Tellis as the hitchhiker and agreed with a prosecutor that she didn’t know who she picked up.
Still, prosecutors seek to connect the ride’s timing to Chambers’ death. Prosecutors have said Tellis left Chambers’ car before returning to set it and her on fire. The defense disputes the timing.
A firefighter who was on the scene on December 6, 2014, told the court yesterday that the 19-year-old’s body was completely covered in burns and ‘almost looked like shoe leather.’
‘Her face itself…she was unrecognizable,’ the first responder said from the stand. ‘There was black charring.’
According to the witness, when another firefighter asked Jessica who did this to her, she responded with what sounded like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek,’ but it was a struggle for her to speak.
Ben Chambers, Jessica’s father, began sobbing in the courtroom while listening to the gut-wrenching testimony.
A medical examiner says Chambers’ death was a homicide from soot and smoke inhalation and thermal injuries.
The court also heard yesterday morning from two Panola County Sheriff’s deputies, who both testified that when they asked the victim to name her attacker, she said what sounded like ‘Eric.’
Chambers could not say the man’s last name but indicated that it was not her boyfriend.
When asked whether the assailant was black or white, she responded with what sounded like ‘black,’ according to one of the deputies.
The defense has previously emphasized that multiple emergency workers heard the dying Chambers say someone named ‘Eric’ attacked her, calling the prosecution’s evidence ‘speculation’ or ‘unreliable.’
Tellis faces another murder indictment in the 2015 stabbing death of another woman in Monroe, Louisiana. He’s already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of her debit card.
The 29-year-old defendant is currently serving a prison sentence in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary charge.
Prosecutors say cellphone locations, video, DNA on a keychain and Tellis’ statements link him to Chambers’ death.
‘Once you hear all the evidence the state offers, you’re going to have plenty of evidence to convict him of capital murder,’ Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told jurors in his opening statement Monday.
Defense attorney Darla Palmer urged jurors in her opening statement to disregard evidence about cellphone locations that she said can’t prove Tellis and Chambers were in exactly the same place.
Tellis has always insisted that he is innocent, telling police in the interrogation room, even after being threatened with the death penalty if it went to trial: ‘I told the truth. I didn’t kill Jessica. It ain’t even in my heart to kill nobody.’
His family claim that the police are simply looking for someone to blame in the case, which has become a highly charged racial issue after Tellis, who is black, was arrested for the death of the pretty, white cheerleader.
During the investigation, police interviewed several people called Eric or Derek, but none were charged.
After Tellis was arrested, prosecutors told the court last year that Jessica may have been trying to say another name but her throat and mouth were so badly burned that it only appeared to sound like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek.’
Prosecutor John Champion said during the first trial that Tellis thought he suffocated Chambers while they were having sex before he drove her car to a back road.
Prosecutors also showed a number of text messages, which appeared to show Tellis, who was from the same neighborhood as the victim and attended her high school years earlier, pestering Jessica for sex.
After he believed he’d choked her to death, Champion said that Tellis ran to his sister’s house nearby, jumped in his sisters’ car, stopped to pick up gasoline from a shed at his house and torched Chambers’ car and her.