Opening statements were made Tuesday in the capital murder trial of 28-year-old Quinton Tellis, who was wiping tears away from his eyes after making eye contact with his family in the courtroom. Tellis has pleaded not guilty to the murder. Prosecutors claim he set Jessica Chambers on fire, and is responsible for her death.
John Champion, district attorney told the packed courtroom in Batesville, Mississippi that Chambers “was a beautiful, blonde-haired 19-year-old” from Courtland, a tiny town not far from Batesville. He alleged that Tellis took her young life away from her. He pointed to DNA and circumstantial evidence, cell phone data, as well as surveillance footage from a gas station to back up that claim. Chambers’ car keys were near her burnt car. Tellis’ DNA was found on that set of keys, Champion said. He said the cell phone data puts the two together right before Jessica was set on fire.
“You will see text messages between the two where Quinton is constantly asking Jessica for sex and she is constantly turning him down,” Champion said. “There was a series of text messages between the two, even on the day that she died, where he is asking her for sex.”
He then pointed to the crime scene in December 6, 2014, when first responders discovered Chambers walking towards them, badly burned wearing nothing but her panties. Her bra had burnt off. It was 40 degrees out. Champion said that Tellis admitted to the FBI that he had sex with Chambers that day, in her car, near Tellis’ home.
“I think he suffocated her and thought he had killed her (near his home) and had to get her away from his house. He wanted sex. You’ll see the text messages…” Champion said. The district attorney said the suspect changed his story at least three times. He also allegedly texted Chambers after killing her and then called his girlfriend. Champion said that was an attempt to create a false alibi. Tellis also claimed he was with a friend the night of Chambers' death. However, that friend told police he didn't see Tellis that night. In fact, he was not in the state.
Darla Palmer, defense attorney, told the jury that Champion’s information is inconsistent and that the cell phone data in Courtland is unreliable. She also pointed to at least eight first responders who arrived on the scene.
“There were at least eight responders who talked to her. They asked her who did this to her. Many of the first responders completed reports and what they put in their reports, you'll see it’s in quotes: ‘Eric set me on fire.’ She didn’t mention any other name.” Palmer said that when asked the man’s last name, Chambers didn’t have an answer. But, she said that Chambers knew Tellis and his last name.
“Eric is not on trial today. He should be,” she concluded.
Tellis was arrested last year and charged for Chambers’ death, while he was being held in Louisiana in connection with another homicide. Ming-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old University of Louisiana-Monroe student from Taiwan, was stabbed to death eight months after Chambers was killed. Tellis has been charged and indicted for Hsiao's murder, according to the Associated Press. If he is convicted for Hsiao's murder, he could face life in prison. He has only pleaded guilty to the use of Hsiao’s debit card, which resulted in a decade-long jail sentence.