Jessica Chambers: Justice eludes teen set on fire who whispered suspect's name with dying breath 6 years later
Despite her excruciating pain, Chambers, somehow, managed to whisper the name of the possible suspect to multiple firefighters at the scene trying to save her
Nearly six years ago, at 8:10 PM on December 6, 2014, a 19-year-old girl, Jessica Chambers, was found burning as she tried to walk to firefighters in just her underwear, seeking help. The teen, who suffered 90 percent burns, was found beside a blazing vehicle on a rural road in Courtland, Mississippi. Despite her excruciating pain, Chambers, somehow, managed to whisper the name of the possible suspect to multiple firefighters at the scene trying to save her. Some heard her say "Eric" while others believed she said "Derrick." Chambers succumbed to her injuries the next day in a hospital and the name whispered by her was the only clue authorities had for the next several months to catch the culprit.
It was revealed that gasoline had been poured on the car and on Chambers' body, down her throat and also up her nose. The teen's car keys were later found along a road near the crime scene. With no suspects to initially zero in on, police examined her cell phone to determine her movements on the day of her murder. It was revealed that she had spent the morning of December 6 with two friends and later went to her mother's house to take a nap. Chambers, later in the afternoon, left home after receiving a text message from someone. She reportedly told her mother that she was going to clean out her car and to get something to eat. Her cellphone data placed her at a gas station nearly a mile and a half from where her body was discovered. A CCTV footage from the station suggested that there was someone along with her too. That was the last she was seen alive.
Her phone's location data showed her going to Batesville, which was near the gas station, at around 6 PM, however, she returned to Courtland half an hour later. It is still not established what Chambers did in Batesville. Chambers had also placed a call to her mother fifteen minutes later, her mother later noticed that she was in an unusually quiet area. Her cellphone's location data concluded with the teen driving to the area she was spotted set ablaze nearly half an hour later at 7:30 PM.
With nothing concrete to go by, authorities questioned her boyfriend but eventually ruled him out because he was in prison at the time of her demise. Police then later questioned nearly everyone from the nearby county whose names matched with "Eric" or "Derrick." Dozens of people were questioned about Chambers' murder, however, they were all ruled out.
Months without finding a possible suspect, some friends of Chambers told authorities about Quinton Tellis. He had allegedly been dating Chambers for a few weeks before her death. When authorities checked crosschecked his phone records with Chambers', they found out that he was the last person whom Chambers texted before her death. Tellis, throughout the course of the investigation, changed his story several times. He initially claimed to have met Chambers in the morning, however, location data from their phones showed they two were together until around 7:30 PM. He had reportedly traveled to and from Batesville with Chambers at the same time. Tellis later told the authorities that he was with her until 7 PM and that a friend picked him up that night. But his alibi was disproven after the friend said he was at a football game in Nashville that night.
When Tellis was asked of the discrepancies in his account, he claimed that he and Chambers went to his house and sat in his driveway and that she later left at 7 PM. Her cellphone data, however, suggested that she left at 7:30 PM. Police concluded that it was very unlikely for Chambers to have encountered someone else from Tellis' home to the spot she was discovered at within thirty minutes. A sample of Tellis' DNA also matched the one taken from Chambers' car keys.
Tellis was arrested in suspicion of Chambers' murder and was indicted in February 2016 on a capital murder charge in her death. He also had a prior conviction of drug possession and burglary. It was also revealed during this period that he was suspected of murdering another woman just months after Chambers' murder. He was caught using the credit cards of an exchange student Meing-Chen Hsiao in 2015 after her mysterious death.
It was also later revealed that Tellis, within an hour of Chambers' death, had deleted all communications with her from his cellphone. After an investigation, it was found that he repeatedly asked the teen to have sex with him but she consistently denied him. Even on the day of her death, she denied him sex at least four times. According to prosecutors, Tellis allegedly murdered Chambers after she refused to have sex with him. They suggested that Tellis became enraged after her refusal and suffocated her until she became unconscious, then drove her car to a distant area. He later ran on foot to her sister's home nearby to pick up gasoline, with which he burned Chambers' car and set her ablaze while she was inside the vehicle.
Tellis' defense, however, has claimed that the prosecutors should be looking for "Eric" or "Derrick" if they wanted to find the real killer. In October of 2017, Tellis went on trial for Chambers' murder. Initially, the verdict was read as "not guilty". However, it was discovered that the jury misunderstood the instructions, as many of them had voted for "guilty". An hour later, the jury returned and said that they could not reach a verdict. A mistrial was declared; a new trial began on September 24, 2018, in a different county. However, during that trial, a mistrial was again declared. Prosecutors are deciding whether to re-try Tellis a third time for the murder. He still faces murder charges in the death of Meing-Chen Hsiao.
Experts, during the trials, noted that it would have been difficult for Chambers to say anything properly due to the injuries to her mouth and throat. A thorough investigation revealed that Chambers had not talked to any Eric or Derrick in the 30 days before her death. The case, to this day, remains unsolved.
Investigation Discovery's two-hour special 'Jessica Chambers: An ID Murder Mystery' premieres Friday, November 27 at 9/8c.