A judge in Mississippi has determined that a district attorney did not commit any prosecutorial misconduct by speaking to a witness represented by the same attorney defending Jessica Chambers’ accused murderer, who is facing a retrial in September.
As reported by LocalMemphis.com, a hearing was held in Sardis, Mississippi, on Monday in response to a motion filed by defense attorney Darla Palmer that accused District Attorney John Champion of intimidating a potential witness, who is also her client.
Palmer represents both Quinton Tellis, who is accused of burning Jessica to death in December 2014, and Jalen Caudle, an accused murderer in an unrelated case who reportedly met Tellis in jail.
Tellis’s 2017 murder trial ended in a hung jury, and he is set for a retrial in September. Jessica was still conscious though gravely injured when first responders came to met her near the scene of the horrific attack, and reportedly said that someone by the name of “Eric” did this to her. She died soon after.
The victim’s statement presented a challenge for the case against Tellis, though despite extensive searches, investigators were never able to link anyone by the name of Eric or Derek to the crime. Tellis and Chambers were friendly and he has admitted to seeing her on the morning of the day she later died, according to a Buzzfeed report.
At Monday’s hearing, Champion said on the stand that attorney for a third client jailed with Tellis and Caudle told him that Tellis may have told Caudle that Jessica had called Tellis “Eric” as a pet name. Champion said that he met with Caudle to confirm this claim, but that he never asked him directly about the nickname — instead, he says the inmate offered it out of “the clear blue.”
Palmer and her attorney argued at the hearing that Champion had engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by failing to disclose with Palmer that he had met with one of her clients, and for allegedly intimidating Caudle to testify that Jessica called Tellis “Eric” — with the D.A. leading Caudle to believe that he would help his own case by doing so.
“[Champion] went there in an authority position which made the subject matter of Jalen’s case come into play… at least that’s how Jalen felt,” Palmer said, further arguing to extend the retrial start date because that the preparation of her motion against the prosecutor had impacted her ability to prepare for Tellis’s retrial.
Champion and his attorney argued that the prosecutor was guilty of no wrongdoing because he did not discuss Caudle’s own case with the inmate — only Tellis’s — and because Champion didn’t believe Caudle’s claim about the nickname.
“Mr Caudle was presented to me as a witness in the Quinton Tellis case,” Champion said from the stand.
“He would have been one of those witnesses, if I had chosen to believe him, which I did not.”
The judge’s decision means that Champion will remain a prosecutor in the case against Tellis, and the retrial will take place in September as scheduled.