MEMPHIS, Tenn (localmemphis.com) - Heavy emotion and passion returned to a Panola County, MS courtroom on the first test of testimony in the retrial of the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers nearly four years ago.
29-year-old Quinton Tellis is charged with burning Chambers alive in Courtland, MS in December 2014.
Tellis is being retried with a new jury, after a hung jury last October.
Some of Tuesday's testimony came with deep breaths and pauses, as first responders recounted what they described as the worst burn victim and most dramatic rescue call of their careers.
"Held her hand, that's all I could do," First responder Cole Haley testified. "I told her, 'sweetheart, it's going to be OK' and she kept telling me, 'I'm going to die.'"
That's what Haley said Chambers told him, on a wooded road in Courtland, MS December 6th, 2014 - hours before she died in a Memphis hospital.
"She was walking towards me, her arms outstretched, saying 'help, help me'" Haley said.
But the clarity of Chambers dying words to first responders outside her charred car remains a sticking point in the retrial, as it did in last year's trial.
Several reported in 2014, and again testified Tuesday, that Chambers said a man named 'Eric' or 'Derrick' committed the crime.
"I asked her again, who did this?" Panola County EMS Director Daniel Cole said. "She said, 'Eric did. He set me on fire.'"
Speech pathologist, Dr. Carolyn Higdon said on the stand Chambers' burns to her tongue and inside her mouth affected the clarity and accuracy of her words.
"The severity of what I saw, would have prohibited this person from producing any kind of an articulate sound," Dr. Higdon said.
That testimony came after the opening statements, where attorneys on both sides each laid out their case.
"Once you've heard all the evidence the state offers, you are going to have plenty to find him guilty," Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale said.
"To this day, we still don't know what really happened to her, they can't prove it, there's no evidence to support it," Darla Palmer, one of Tellis' defense attorneys, said.
More than a dozen witnesses testified Tuesday.
Quinton Tellis faces life in prison without parole if convicted.
The retrial is expected to last a week or so and resumes Wednesday at 9 a.m.
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