(When the Jessica Chambers trial is in session we will be airing the testimony live in the player above. When the trial is on break, we will be providing legal analysis)
Melissa Jones, our freelance producer, is providing these live updates from the courthouse in Mississippi. Please refresh your browser to make sure you are seeing the latest details.
9:55 am ET:
The State and the defense team as well as both families have just made their way into the courtroom. Looks like Day 2 of State vs Tellis will begin on time today.
10:15 am ET (This was updated)
One of the most notable witnesses to take the stand this morning was Daniel Cole. Mr. Cole is currently the Director of Panola County (MS) Emergency Operations but said that he wears many hats in this small rural community ; Director of Homeland Security, EMS Director, Search and Rescue and a couple of others.
He was called via telephone by dispatch on the night of this horrible crime. He testified that he “broke down” upon seeing Jessica when he arrived on the scene and openly wept on the stand as he recounted this night. He did not personally know her. He said he first saw her sitting on a blanket. When asked about her appearance he said her hair was singed and there was soot around her nose and mouth. He added that it appeared her tongue was thick and her skin was covered with red splotchy places all over. When he asked her who she was she made several attempts to say her name. “Catina, Katrina, Courtney” were some of the names he thought he heard her say.
He even laid down on the blanket beside her so he could hear her better. Like everyone else, he kept asking her, “Who did this? What happened?” And again like everyone who has testified thus far, he stated he heard her say, “Eric did this to me. Eric set me on fire.” He said he took one photo of her. Just of her face. He was thinking he would need an identity shot. This photo was then shown in court and several members of her family looked down and some cried. He went on to say the scene was very chaotic with “everyone stepping over each other trying to help while worrying about their own safety at the same time.” Mr. Cole stayed on the scene until the arrival of Sheriff Darby so the two could go notify the family.
During cross, the defense noted how detailed his written account was of that night. The defense pointed out that everything Jessica told him, he put in quotations marks. In this report, just 12 hours after the incident, he stated Jessica told him “Eric set me on fire”. When he asked her for Eric’s last name he said she shrugged her shoulders indicating she didn’t know. He also read in his report where he wrote that “a suspicious person”, an “older black male” was on the scene and gave the tag number. He also read that Search and Rescue was called in to search up and down the sides of the road for evidence. He ended his testimony by crying on the stand a second time saying “I see that photo ( in his mind) every morning and every night. He was then excused.
11:00 am ET:
On the stand, three times volunteer Brandie Davis stated that Jessica answered “Eric” when he was asked who did this to her. Mr. Davis, a volunteer firefighter was also the first medical responder to appear on the scene. He stated all he could do was cover her with his field jacket and “package” her for transport to the trauma center. Hands visibly shaking as he read from his report the defense team was able to point out that not once, not twice, but three times he wrote that when asked who did this to her she answered “Eric.”
The next witness, Shane Mills is on the stand now
Volunteer firefighter Shane Mills testified about his arrival to a loud and chaotic scene. Although he is the first witness (other than her mother) to testify he actually knew Jessica personally. After his testimony the judge called a recess. Testimony should resume momentarily.
Will Turner, another Courtland firefighter took the stand now. He did not know Jessica. He testified that when he first saw her, she was only wearing panties and her skin was badly burned, and hanging off. There was too much commotion for him to hear very much. Between the noise from the firetrucks, there were a lot of responders on the scene.
He also said a black male approached him. He asked the man to leave several times to no avail. He said the suspicious male just gave him a blank stare. He said he told Brandie Davis to get a tag number. (Apparently off the suspicious looking vehicle).
He described Jessica Chambers as looking like a zombie, someone off the walking dead. He also said that it looked like ashes were coming out of her mouth when she tried to talk. He also wrote a statement just a few days after the incident.
When asked to read from his statement, he read, “he then looked at the woods in front of the car like he was looking for something,” Turner read that he “told Brandie Davis that something just wasn’t right about him (suspicious male).”
He was then excused.
Sandra Haley took the stand. She is also a member with the volunteer fire department as an EMR and an emergency medical responder. She had been on a prior call but also responded to the scene in her personal vehicle with her husband and three grandchildren. She told the children to “stay in this truck, do not get out,” She and her husband, also a firefighter, approached the scene.
By the time she got to the scene Jessica was already being transferred to the stretcher and was helping to hold on to.the stretcher by Jessica’s head. She had known Jessica as a small child but not as an adult. She said she did not pay attention to what Jessica looked like. She testified that the scene was loud and chaotic between the trucks, the ambulance, the responders and the rubber neckers. She asked Jessica her name and Jessica answered in a faint voice, “Jessica”. She also asked Jessica “honey who did this to you? And all I heard was Eric.”
She wrote a report too in which the defense asked to be entered into evidence with the other “Eric” reports.
Next on the stand is her husband, Thomas Haley.
(James) Thomas Haley, who responded to the scene with his wife, the prior witness, testified that when he arrived on the scene he went straight to Jessica. Although he did know Jessica, he did not recognize her. He said she was struggling with fear as he was trying to cover her with a sheet. “She was trying to talk but couldn’t” and he added he could not understand what if anything she was saying. He also testified that the scene was loud and a lot of first responders there.
Haley was asked to go set up a landing zone for the life flight helicopter. He then left the scene of the fire to go set up a landing downtown.
During cross-examination, the defense was able to point out that Haley could not hear Jessica because he wasn’t as close to her as his wife or other responders.
He was then excused.
Casey Austin is on the stand now. A paramedic was off duty that night but did work with the ambulance service as well as a volunteer with the Courtland fire department. He stated he was at home about 5 miles from the scene when he heard that call come across his radio.
He responded in his personal truck. When he arrived on the scene he went straight to the patient to render an assessment. Her mental status, her airway condition etc. He described her burns as 2nd and 3rd degree burns all over, down her arms and legs. About the same time he was assessing her, the ambulance arrived on the scene. He then assisted the ambulance personal by covering her with burn blankets and starting an IV.
He testified that he tried to ask “who done this to you,” and that Jessica answered, “Eric”. Although her voice was garbled he said she was in mental shock. He asked her her last name and she answered that question, and any subsequent questions, with “I’m cold.”
He stated when they got to the landing zone, he stepped out of the ambulance to allow the air vac crew to take over. He also stated that under the bright lights inside the ambulance, they were better about to see that the burns we’re “significant with the exception of her panties.” He did not do a written report as he normally would.
Austin was then excused.
Melissa Watson, who recently married and is now Melissa Rogers, is next. Melissa was another volunteer firefighter who responded to the scene. She described seeing Cole Haley trying to hold Jessica on her side. Approaching the scene, her initial impression was that Jessica was burned very badly, front to back, and her hair was singed.
She never actually heard Jessica state her name but did use this name in her report. She stayed with Jessica until Casey Austin, a more qualified paramedic, arrived on the scene.
She wrote a short report about the incident. She admitted “it is possible” that she heard Jessica say her name.
She ended her testimony saying this incident changed the way she now responds to fire calls, especially burning car scenes, and that now she will not respond alone.
David Gammel, the last volunteer Courtland firefighter to make the scene that night, is next. Gammel stated that upon his arrival his first inclination was to find out who was in charge of the scene. He saw Jessica laying under a firefighter’s coat. He stated that it’s a small rural two lane road with no stripping. He added there were a lot of vehicles already on the scene. He said when he found the chief (Cole Haley) he could see the distress on his face.
From what he could hear, although it was hard to understand, he also heard her say “Eric” when other responders were asking her who did this to her. He said he could tell she was badly burned and her skin inside of her nose would go in and out as she tried to breathe. The fire engine sounds from the trucks were running and loud but he could hear her.
In his written report the defense had him read out loud he wrote that “Eric” did this and when asked Eric’s last name, “she did not know.”
Recess for lunch back at 1:15 or soon thereafter
2:39 pm ET
The first witness called to testify after today’s lunch recess was Bradley Dixon, an emt with medstat, the ambulance service that responded on the scene the night of the burning. He, along with paramedic Josh Perkins, arrived. He testified that there were a couple fire trucks as well as several vehicles belonging to first responders on the scene. His at first thought that when he saw Jessica that she was going to need a helicopter. He added her condition was very poor and didn’t notice any part of her body that wasn’t burned. He told jurors that her lips were charred, eyelashes and eyebrows were all gone, and her hair was singed and skin was leathery.
Update 2:59 pm ET:
Joshua Perkins, a paramedic was with the ambulance the night Jessica Chambers was burned. Upon his arrival to the scene he observed Jessica wrapped up in blankets. Once he looked at her he saw that “it was real” meaning real bad, he said. He noticed significant amount of burns. There was not much if any of her hair left. He said the burns were pretty much head to toe on her body. In his initial assessment, he said he wrapped her in burn sheets and tried to keep her warm. The helicopter was called. He said she was able to tell him her name though her voice was garbled. He added she had trouble ennucuating syllables. He also said he heard several people asking Jessica who had done this to her and heard “Eric” or “Derrick”. He said she was so badly burned he was unable to start an IV.
During cross, the defense asked Mr. Perkins to read the part in his report where he wrote “clear breath sounds” left and right. Also, in his assessment, he wrote that the patient said “Eric” several times as the perpetrator. The defense made sure to point out that Mr. Perkins wrote the name “Eric” in his report, not “Derrick.”
3:07 pm ET:
Deputy Daryl House, was dispatched on Dec 6, 2014 to a vehicle fire, person set on fire. Upon his arrival Jessica Chambers was already in the ambulance. He arrived to a scene showing a smoking vehicle and fire trucks, an ambulance and a few personal vehicles. He did not see Jessica but at one point he did get on the ambulance at the landing zone. He did speak to her and she also told this deputy that “Eric did this to her.”
4:01 pm ET:
Edward Dixon is also employed as the lieutenant over in investigations with Panola County Sheriff’s Dept. By the time he arrived the vehicle fire was already out and he proceeded to tape off the scene with crime tape. His first duty was to walk through the area and look for anything that might be evidence of a crime. Cigarette lighters, cell phone, beer cans were some of the items he noticed laying on the ground. He began to mark possible evidence with numbered marker cones and also began to take photographs. The cell phone was about 2-1/2 feet from the driver’s door of the burned vehicle. There were also two different lighters and the back of the cell phone was detached therefore listed as a separate article of possible evidence. The two lighters very pretty close to the vehicle though one that looked like it had been there for a while. At the time, Lt. Dixon did not know the cell phone belonged to the victim but he suspected it did. He also saw burned clothing to the rear of the vehicle. The prosecutor then produced a small paper bag which contained the remains of Jessica’s clothing. The bag as well as several photos taken of the scene that night were entered into evidence.
The judge then called for an afternoon recess.
Update 4:39 pm ET
After recess, Lt. Dixon was cross examined by the defense. He was questioned about what items were collected as evidence, which items were discarded and why. Some items l were discarded by him based on visual examination such as lighters that were rusty. Other items were sent to.the crime lab where the lab employees would make that determination. Another item discarded by Lt.Dixon was a cigarette butt found at the scene. Lt Dixon stated he discarded that butt because he thought it was still smoking and Dixon asked if anyone on the scene had been smoking and one of the firefighters said that they had been smoking. Likewise, he couldn’t swear that the cell phone back found actually belonged to the cell phone that was found near the drivers door of the burned vehicle. The defense also asked the condition of the driver’s side and passenger side doors as well as whether or not there was enough space between the passenger side and the fence and the driver’s side and the tree to open either door. Lt. Dixon testified that although he didn’t officially measure the distance, there was 3-4 feet on either side which would have been enough to open each door. When the vehicle was found, the passenger door was completely shut but the driver’s door was ajar a few inches.
Lt. Dixon was excused.
Update 5:00 pm ET
Jerry King lived near the crime scene and on December 8, 2014, he testified that he was strolling his 1 yr old daughter down Herron Road when he noticed a pink string lying about five feet off the road and in a ditch. The string was attached to a set of keys. Later at his home his girlfriend noticed that there was a Chambers auto repair tag on this set of keys. After hearing of this brutal crime that had occurred 2 days prior and knowing the name of the victim he then realized he had found the car keys belonging to Jessica Chambers. He notified the sheriff’s department and subsequently showed them the location in which the keys had been found.
During cross examination by the defense, the defense asked whether or not Mr. King knew at the time the keys he found belonged to Jessica Chambers. Mr King testified he did not realize it until after his “baby momma” brought it to his attention when he got back home. He stated that he thought maybe it was something valuable by the “shiney-ness” and he retrieved them simple because he thought they may be of (monetary) value. The responding deputy that came to pick up the keys, Tyler mills, had Mr. King go back out to where he “thought” he had found them, place the keys back into the ditch at which time Mills took photos of the keys in the ditch. King stated he then went back home.
Tyler Mills took the stand. He identified himself as a crime scene investigator with the Panola County Sheriff’s Department. He testified that he received a call from Mary Turner, Jerry King’s “baby momma”, on December 8, 2016, about a set of keys being found on the side of Herron road. When he got to the home of Jerry King and Mary Turner, he was presented the keys which were wrapped up in a paper towel on the hood of a car. At that time he stated he put on gloves and collected the keys. At that time, Mills and King went down to the area where King said he thought he had found the keys. Mills instructed King to place the keys back in the ditch at which time Mills testified he took 5 photos. Both normal and zoom. During cross, the defense team asked Mills how long he had been with the sheriff’s department which was 14 years. Mills stated that he had been a plain clothes narcotics investigator prior to the incident but had never actually investigated a murder. He was then questioned by the defense as to whether or not he knew how to collect and handle evidence. Mills also said Turner called him on his personal cell phone, a number that she had because she had previously acted as a confidential informant. He added he did not know Ms. Turner personally but was familiar with Mr. King because he had “pulled him over” on several occasions.
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