JESSICA CHAMBERS UPDATE: Reporters Fail To Correct Falsehoods About Official Timeline

Written by Donald Joy on February 20, 2015

Is real investigative reporting something which just isn’t done in a modern Mississippi Burning, or do only certain politically desirable stories get the full treatment?  I’m finished with giving the paid hacks the benefit of the doubt; it’s time to call them out.  From the very beginning of the Jessica Chambers case, the bumbling backwater yokels and their shallow hand-lickers in the local showbiz media have collaborated, either willfully or not, to help perpetuate darkness where bright lights should be shining instead.

Nobody in the regional press in and near Panola County has shown themselves to be even at least interested in confronting District Attorney John Champion about various glaring inconsistencies in key aspects of the investigation which have existed from day one(whether they are competent to do it remains unseen also).  Now, as of this week, there’s a brand new official timeline of Jessica’s whereabouts on December 6th, the evening of her murder.  The detailed timeline doesn’t even come close to passing the smell test, and in the press conference Champion held three days ago to verbally present it, the journalists present asked not one single question about a certain huge hole in Champion’s official account — a hole huge enough to drive a TV satellite truck through, and which really should have aroused the curiosity of the reporters in the room.

More about that huge hole in just a minute — but first, this:  One reporter who live-Tweeted while watching the press conference, Memphis TV anchorwoman Katina Rankin of Local 24 News, posted false information about the specific time Jessica was found at the scene.  Rankin’s series of Tweets included this one: “Timeline continued: Jessica at 6:30 back in Cortland area, 7:31 body was found, 8:09 fire called made.”  

I already knew, from closely following the case all these weeks, that Jessica wasn’t actually found until fire chief Cole Haley discovered her, still alive, at 8:13 pm.

It was obvious to me that Rankin badly misinterpreted what D.A. Champion had painstakingly described over and over again in the press conference — that technology helped investigators to say with confidence that “at 7:31 we know that she was on the scene where she was found.”  That is, at 7:31, Jessica arrived at the scene where she was later found — not that anyone found her body there at 7:31.  Champion went on to say, again, “…we know that she was in her vehicle, and the vehicle was on the scene where she was found at 7:31, approximately 38 minutes prior to the fire call coming in.”  Moments later, Champion precisely reiterated that detail of the timeline one more time before moving on.

The full twenty-minute press conference is here.

When I began urgently Tweeting to Rankin, to point out her error about what is a critically important fact of the case, Rankin proceeded to insist that she did not misinterpret Champion’s statements.  Then, as I persisted, she blocked me.

What kind of professional TV anchor not only cannot comprehend precise official statements of vital events made in the English language, but also refuses to reassess, acknowledge, and correct their error when it is pointed out to them(I’m quite sure I angered her when I brought up affirmative action, to explain her position)?

When asked about the specific technology used in geo-location for the timeline, Champion would not give an answer, except to say that the U.S. Marshals, ATF, and FBI were all involved and providing their best scientific equipment & assistance (presumably based on cell tower pinging and tracking of the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art sort).

Now back to that “huge hole” I brought up a minute ago.

Even with the highly advanced and exotic technology available to the investigators, Champion emphasizes that there is a full hour, 6:30 – 7:30 pm, during which they cannot account for Jessica’s whereabouts, at all.  Apart from that hour, they can pretty much place her whereabouts in and near Courtland, up to just before 6:30 and just after 7:30.

This mystery hour would make sense if, perhaps, let’s say the battery was removed from her phone during that time — but here’s the problem; the huge hole:  Anyone who has followed the case closely knows that Jessica’s mother, Lisa Daugherty, has gone on record in interviews about a phone conversation she says she had with Jessica that evening, from 6:48 pm to 7:13 pm, after Lisa first tried unsuccessfully to reach Jessica a couple of times.  Lisa said she verifies the call time/length by the digital record stored on her phone’s call sequence display, as is normal with phones today.

If investigators are able to use cellular geo-location track Jessica’s location around Courtland and Batesville most of the rest of the time, and if Jessica was on her cell phone talking to her mother as Lisa describes, why does Champion say that they are unable to track where she was at all during that entire hour?  The 20-minute phone call falls smack in the middle of the mystery hour window.  Something obviously does not add up.

So — why didn’t any of the reporters ask Champion about that screaming inconsistency?  They very politely and softly asked him some other, mild questions during the presser, and there was not the slightest tone of skepticism nor confrontation in any of it.

Are we to believe that none of the reporters on the case knew about the phone call, or, none had the presence of mind to bring it up?  It’s possible that it slipped their minds in the excitement of new revelations about technology and timelines (however excusable or inexcusable that may be), but we are left with a District Attorney/lead investigator who, for some reason, is failing to address or is concealing something huge.  There has to be a reason for it.

There’d seem to be just no way that the discrepancy about the Lisa Daugherty phone call did not occur to Champion, and to the other officials who helped put together the timeline.

Speculation by blogger Sundance at here.

is that perhaps Champion intentionally didn’t address it in order to protect some critical aspect of the investigation — a key witness or informant perhaps, whose identity otherwise might be at least somewhat given away if Jessica’s whereabouts during that hour were to be discussed.  Some “Treepers” even speculate that Jessica herself had been a confidential informant in an ongoing criminal investigation of gang activity.

I’d go as far as conjecturing that Champion may have, off the record, told the reporters present at the conference how/why it was critical for the tactics of the investigation not to bring up the discrepancy.  One local reporter (who I shall not name now) told me they’ve been told some things by Champion and Sheriff Darby, things which ostensibly for good reason have to stay off the record.  However, as I said, I’m not disposed to give the local media the overall benefit of the doubt anymore.  There’s too much prior instance of them being professionally AWOL from the case, in terms of investigative inquisitiveness and aggressiveness.

Let’s recap the most dazzling previous examples of official/media dereliction from since the immediate aftermath of the incident:

First there was the negligent (and even suspicious) rush in removing Jessica’s burned-out car from the crime scene, within less than an hourafter first responders arrived to put out the blaze.

According to D.A. Champion, it was okay to haul the car away because it, and the scene, “had already been processed” for evidence.  Got that?  We’re supposed to accept that the on-site elements of such a murderous inferno, which took place among trees and roadside undergrowth, had been adequately gone over by investigators in under an hour, in the dark (no wonder amateur sleuths visiting the crime scene much later found items such as car parts and a whiskey bottle laying there on the ground, among other things).  Nary more than a timid squeak from any reporter to wonder about that stupefying start to the caper.

Then, mere minutes later, there was the tow truck driver, enroute to the police impound lot with Jessica’s freshly-extinguished car, stopping to buy cigarettes and a drink at the notorious gang hangout, the M&M First Stop gas station/convenience store, and leaving the crucial piece of evidence sitting there unguarded in the open for anyone and everyone to swarm around it, climb onto the truck, take pictures, whatever.  At least Champion did express a slight amount of regret about that having happened, when asked about it by WMC Action News 5‘s Michael Clark in a videotaped one-on-one interview weeks later.

To his credit, that same young reporter, Michael Clark, is the one who discovered that the M&M First Stop’s CCTV surveillance system had captured a brief portion of Jessica’s final hours (including the presence/actions of some very shady locals)  when she stopped there herself to buy gas and cigarettes shortly before being murdered.  Apparently, local law enforcement had for some reason not thought or bothered to check for what Clark went looking for, and found, days after the murder — the now famous video.

Clark had the opportunity afterward, in the one-on-one interview, to ask Champion about that particular investigative lapse.  Champion tap-danced away from acknowledging the failure, and instead came up with a whopper about how sheriff’s deputies had supposedly already secured the CCTV system’s hard drive before anyone, including Clark, discovered the video evidence contained on it at the store!  In the interview, Clark acted as if that was an acceptable explanation(I am actually gasping and shaking my head again as I type).

To this date, for some reason, no reporter that I’m aware of has publicly challenged Champion on how it would even be possible to for various parties to repeatedly replay video from/on the CCTV system at the store if — as Champion alleged — deputies had previously taken the hard drive away.

It’s been two and a half months since Jessica Chambers was murdered.  All along, there’s been both a wildly gushing firehose of vitally intense vetting of social media, hearsay, & endless speculation spewing forth about the case online, and a frustratingly almost bone-dry trickle of an occasional official fact allowed to drip down from the established gatekeepers on high.  Many of you, my Clash Daily readers, have helped greatly to keep some pressure on officials and media figures through your tireless postings on Twitter,, and other alternative networks.

Anyone who wants more background on the case can find my four previous articles on it by clicking on my by-line at the top of this one.

The total reward for information leading to solving the case is now up to $55,000.  Witness protection is also being offered to anyone who might come forward.

In case any guilty parties happen to be reading this, I’ll take this opportunity to keyboard-confront you:  You can try to sleep, but the internet never sleeps.


Following his service in the United State Air Force, Donald Joy earned a bachelor of science in business administration from SUNY while serving in the army national guard. As a special deputy U.S. marshal, Don was on the protection detail for Attorney General John Ashcroft following the attacks of 9/11. He lives in the D.C. suburbs of Northern Virginia with his wife and son.