PANOLA CO, MS (WMC) - A judge sided with prosecutors in a misconduct hearing related to the Jessica Chambers murder trial.
Chambers was burned alive in Panola County in 2014. Her accused killer, Quinton Tellis, has already stood trial once. That trial ended in a hung jury.
After the hung jury, District Attorney John Champion vowed to retry Tellis for Chambers' murder.
While preparing for the retrial, Champion spoke with witness Jalen Caudle.
Caudle's attorney, Darla Palmer, who is also Tellis' attorney, accused Champion of trying to pressure Caudle into releasing details and testifying against Tellis.
Palmer levied misconduct and ethical violation accusations against Champion. Palmer filed documents saying Champion tried to get Caudle to say Chambers used to call Tellis "Eric." (With her last words, Chambers blamed "Eric" for her death) According to Palmer, Chambers promised to get Caudle a public defender friend if he cooperated.
Monday, a judge heard both sides of the misconduct allegations.
Caudle and other witnesses testified Monday accusing Champion of breaking legal rules to talk to witnesses in the Chambers case.
"He was trying to say if I helped him, he would help me," Caudle said.
When Champion took the stand, he detailed his conversation with Claude.
"I asked what did he tell you? He told me, He and Quinton Tellis were talking about cases. Quinton advised that Jessica called him Eric as a pet name," Chambers said.
When asked did he attempt to put words in Caudle's mouth, he said no. "I did not. I wanted to hear from his own mouth what Quinton Tellis told him and I did."
The team trying to get Champion taken off the Chambers case accused Champion of talking to Caudle without properly alerting Caudle's lawyer.
Champion defended his actions by saying he did not break any rules. He said he is allowed to talk to Caudle about the Champion case because Caudle was a witness. He said he never talked to Caudle about a different case, which Champion said would have required him to contact Caudle's lawyer.
After a lunch recess, attorneys for both sides summarized their arguments in direct statements to the judge.
Palmer and her team said they believed Champion should be taken off the Chambers case because of his misconduct. They said there was not a specific rule that requires this, but there are previous precedents where a district attorney was removed from the case for similar transgressions.
"I'm extremely frustrated and extremely disappointed," Palmer said.
The district attorney's office countered by saying Champion never broke any rules. They said Palmer and her team are believing the story of one inmate, who has a reason to lie, without investigating what really happened. They cited Champion's testimony Monday as evidence that he did nothing wrong and that Caudle is changing details of what happened to help himself.
The judge ruled in favor of the District Attorney's Office. He said he had not heard any evidence suggesting the meeting Champion had with Caudle would impact his ability to prosecute Tellis.
"[I've heard] no misconduct that would prejudice Mr. Tellis' case...whether there has been professional misconduct is really not for me to decide," the judge said.
Palmer's team could still file a misconduct complaint with the Mississippi Bar Association.
"We're convinced that Jalen was being truthful and that we have established prosecutorial misconduct," Palmer said. She went on to say that she plans to appeal the judge's ruling.
Barring any further delays, the Jessica Chambers retrial is scheduled to begin September 24.