Jessica Chambers' mother hopes that the man accused of burning her 19-year-old daughter alive is held accountable during his retrial
On December 6, 2014, 19-year-old Jessica Chambers was set on fire on a back road in Courtland. Four years later her devastated family is still waiting for justice.
A devastated mother recalled the tragic moment she comforted her 19-year-old daughter after she was doused with gasoline and set on fire four years ago, causing her to succumb to her injuries. “I felt that she hung on long enough to know that she could hear one of our voices,” Lisa Daugherty told People. “And as soon as she did, and I told her that it was okay, she passed away. Remembering the tragic day when her daughter, a high school cheerleader, Jessica Chambers, died, Lisa added, “I know that there was nothing they could do to save her.”
The December 6, 2014, incident on a rural roadside in tiny Courtland, Mississippi, garnered national attention at the time. Young Chambers later died at a hospital with 98% burns. The intensity of the fire was such that according to Daugherty, her daughter's contact lenses were seared into her eyes and the car in which she was in turned white from black.
Law enforcement authorities took over a year to indict a suspect, 29-year-old Quinton Tellis, whose prosecution for murder ended in a mistrial back in October last year when jurors were unable to reach a consensus. Now, as Tellis goes on trial for the second time in the case, Daugherty hopes that justice for her daughter will prevail. The brutal killing is the focal point of the six-part docuseries 'Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers', which continues to air on Oxygen Saturday night.
The 49-year-old nurse says “There’s actually no way to prepare" as she heads back into the courtroom. “I’m just taking it day by day, moment by moment," she says.
Having said that, Tellis still maintains his innocence. According to his defense, when Chambers attempted to identify her attacker in her final moments, first-responders heard something similar to "Eric" or "Derek". However, Daugherty says it is a false lead.
She says her daughter may have been unconscious when she was driven around in her own car to the place where her vehicle was set on fire - based on a prosecution theory. A passer-by saw Chambers near a ditch and immediately called the authorities. Her mother believes the 19-year-old may have been trying to formulate a different word for firefighters who responded to the scene as she was covered in burns and possibly oblivious to what had happened.
“What if she thought she had a ‘wreck’?” Daugherty says. “The medical examiner claimed she could not have enunciated anything. There’s no way she made the statement ‘Eric’ did this to me. She was unable to. … How was she supposed to know right then and there that somebody actually did it?”
She hopes that during the second trial, jurors focus on the prosecution's timeline that uses phone records to indicate that both Chambers and Tellis were together at the time of the incident, with Tellis admitting they were together earlier that day.
“Nobody ever claimed she was a saint,” Daugherty says, urging the jurors to see past allegations that her daughter placed herself intentionally among a rough crowd before her death. “Jessica was just a normal teenager. She wasn’t putting herself in a place or with people to kill her. She loved everybody.”
Striking down any form of racism on her daughter's part, considering Tellis is black, the mother says, “She did not see color. She never treated anybody different. It didn’t matter what you’d done, because she wasn’t a judgmental person. Everybody deserved a fair chance even after they’d done their time, and she believed that.”
“There are stories out there that she did crystal meth. That’s a total lie,” Daugherty says. “I would say she knew who some of the drug dealers in town [were] … just kids who had been in school at that time that were selling drugs big-time that are now in jail for it.”
In a conversation with People, Jessica's father Ben Chambers revealed that she used to talk to him about her friends, but they thought she was snitching on them. Chambers worked as a mechanic at the sheriff's department. Daugherty says that outsiders calling her daughter a snitch made "the town look horrible, when a lot of these kids, they grew up together."
Jessica “had a personality out of this world, better than anybody I know around here. Yes, she did the crazy things that all teenagers did, but other than that, she was just a normal happy teenager.”
“I use my faith in God,” Daugherty says, hoping that her daughter's killer would be held accountable. “He gives me hope that there will be justice for Jessica. We will find out who did it.” That said, jail records show that Tellis is currently in a Mississippi prison serving a five-year sentence on an unrelated conviction for burglary. He faces a possible life sentence if he is convicted as charged in the Chambers case.
It is important to note that Tellis has been described as a "habitual" criminal offender by authorities and is also accused in an unrelated murder in Louisiana, to which he pleaded not guilty.