Hearing underway after Jessica Chambers D.A. accused of coaching false testimony

SARDIS, Miss. — A local judge heard testimony from both sides on Monday after attorneys for the man accused of killing Jessica Chambers accused the District Attorney John Champion of seeking false testimony from an inmate.

In a motion filed last week, they asked that Champion be thrown off the case and punished, and that a September retrial be delayed while the state attorney general’s office takes over the prosecution.

The defense’s main witness, Jalen Matthews Caudle, told the court that Champion approached him in early 2018 and insinuated that if he gave false testimony in court against Quinton Tellis, the man accused of murdering Chambers, he would receive leniency in his own case.

During that meeting, the two allegedly discussed his murder case and then Champion asked Caudle if he knew anything about the Tellis case, specifically asking, “Jessica called Quinton, Eric, right?”

Caudle said Champion then explained that if Caudle testified against Tellis he would help him in his own case by making sure he wouldn’t get life in prison. They scheduled another meeting and that’s when reportedly Champion told him to think about what he wanted to eat for when Champion met with him again. “He was going to get me something nice to eat.” Caudle also said Champion told him not to talk to his dad or attorney about potential deal.

Caudle said he felt like Champion was using an intimidation tactic.

But the District Attorney’s Office said that’s not what happened.

They said earlier this year, they received information from a local defense attorney that Caudle had told another inmate that Chambers called Tellis “Eric”. If true, it would prove to be a key piece of evidence considering Chambers is believed to have said “Eric” was the one who attacked her.

Champion said they first confirmed Caudle and Tellis were in fact housed in the same pod. Once that was confirmed, the office asked to interview Caudle as a potential witness.

While on the stand, Champion testified that he immediately introduced himself and told Caudle he could not talk about his case. He stated he was only there to talk about Tellis.

He went on to say that Caudle agreed to speak with him and that’s when he asked if he had ever had a conversation with Tellis. Caudle confirmed the two had talked and that they even spoke about their individual cases, specifically stating that Tellis had mentioned that Chambers had called him Eric. He claimed it was a pet name.

Champion said the conversation didn’t last more than 10 minutes, but claimed he didn’t feel like Caudle had been truthful. Their office ultimately decided not to put him on the witness stand or speak with Caudle further.

When asked why this motion was brought about, Champion claimed his office had recently given the defense new evidence in the case. Several days later, they said they were hit by this motion.

The background

Prosecutors say Tellis set Chambers and her car on fire on a rural back road near Courtland on the night of Dec. 6, 2014. Firefighters and law enforcement officers testified at the first trial that they heard Chambers say “Eric” or “Derek” attacked her, although prosecutors presented testimony that Chambers was so burned that she would have been unable to properly pronounce words. Champion said other evidence led to Tellis, but the defendant’s lawyers made Chambers’ words the center of their case.

“‘Eric’ is not on trial today, but ladies and gentlemen, he should be,” Palmer told the jury in closing arguments.

Chambers was found walking on the road looking like a “zombie,” according to trial testimony. She had third-degree burns on more than 90 percent of her body when she died at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Courtland. The horrific circumstances surrounding Chambers’ death garnered national attention.

Champion said investigators searched for people named Eric or Derek, but ultimately concluded the evidence led to Tellis, including an analysis of the locations of Tellis’ cellphone and Chambers’ cellphone on the day of her death. Tellis has told investigators he does not know who killed Chambers, and denies prosecutors’ claims that he had sex with her. He admitted after first denying it that they were together for a time on the evening of her death.

Tellis faces another murder indictment in Louisiana, where he’s accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.