A 19-year-old former cheerleader named Jessica Chambers was burned alive in the small town of Courtland, Mississippi in 2014, a tragedy that is explored in Oxygen's upcoming docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,” which premieres on September 15. Who are the key figures you need to know in the case?
Her mother said Jessica’s goal was to become a registered nurse. She described her teen daughter as a full of life. In the first episode of “The Killing of Jessica Chambers,” Ashunta Winfield, Chambers’ friend and neighbor said that “Jessica loved everybody. She’s never seen a color in a person.” Chambers had black friends and black boyfriends, including boyfriend Travis Sanford who was incarcerated at the time of Chambers’ killing.
When she was 17, Chambers’ big brother Allen, 28, died in a car crash, a death that reportedly affected her deeply. Her stepmother Debbie Chambers said that her brother’s death was a catalyst for Chambers changing her social scene.
There was speculation that Chambers socialized with, and dated, gang members but the prosecution didn’t suspect that gang activity was to blame for Chambers’ death.
[Photo: Provided by Chambers famly]
Quinton Tellis is the man accused of killing the beautiful former cheerleader and is being retried for the murder on September 24.
His retrial for the murder starts September 24. Tellis’ first trial ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked. His arrest sparked racial divide not only in the small Mississippi town and but across social media, as noted in the docu-series. In a phone interview from prison, Tellis told legal analyst Beth Karas that he felt like police investigators were harassing him.
“I just feel like they was trying to make something with me out of nothing,” he said.
Tellis’ mother, Rebecca Tellis, said she knows he’s not capable of murder.
During Tellis’ trial, the prosecution elicited testimony from an FBI Special Agent who spoke with Tellis days after Jessica died. According to the agent, Tellis admitted to having a gas can in his shed.
The prosecution believed that her car was doused with gasoline before it was set on fire with Jessica inside. However, most of the items at the crime scene that were tested did not test positive for gasoline.
Rebecca Tellis showed the producers of “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers” where the gas can was, still located in the shed at the home Tellis shared with his mom. Rebecca Tellis said police never searched the shed.
Tellis deleted all the texts and calls between Chambers and him after her death, according to intelligence analyst Paul Rowlett who claimed that Tellis asked Chambers repeatedly for sex three days in a row. After Chambers died, according to Rowlett, Tellis didn’t check up on her. Instead, he deleted all their calls and text message conversations. Prosecutors contend that Tellis was hiding evidence of their relationship and, particularly their communications that fateful day, but Tellis offered an explanation.
“I didn’t want to have a deceased person’s, uh, information in my phone with a number in my phone that’s just gonna be no longer used,” he claimed, according to the docu-series.
[Photo: Ouachita Parish Sheriff's Office]
Tellis was caught using the debit cards of Ming-Chen Hsiao, a murdered international graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, according to KNOE-TV in Monroe, Louisiana. Hsiao's body was discovered at her apartment on August 8, 2015, eight months after Chambers' murder. Police believe she was tortured and stabbed more than 30 times, according to KNOE-TV.
Hsiao, 34, who also went by “Mandy,” studied education and often passed out candy to the kids in her neighborhood, one friend remembered, according to KTVE-TV. She and Tellis knew each other but the nature of their relationship isn’t clear, and though Tellis is a suspect in her murder, he has never been charged, KTVE-TV reported. However, he pleaded guilty to the unauthorized use of Hsiao’s credit card, which resulted in a decade-long jail sentence.
[Photo: Monroe Police Department]
District Attorney John Champion was the prosecutor in the Chambers trial in 2017 and will be lead prosecutor during the retrial this fall.
[Photo: Oxygen screengrab]
Darla Palmer, Tellis’ lead defense attorney, forcefully offered Tellis’ defense in the first murder trial with one of its most memorable lines: “Eric is not on trial today, but ladies and gentlemen, he should be.”
Several first responders testified that Chambers said a man named “Eric” or “Derrick” had set her on fire. It was a key focus of the case, both sides grappling with how to handle it.
Alton Peterson (pictured above), another attorney representing Tellis, is assisting Darla Palmer. In Oxygen’s docu-series “Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,” he calls his client a good person and that “I’ve seen an incredible effort on the part of the state to go after this young man and they did it with all their resources.”
[Photo: Oxygen screengrab]
Intelligence Analyst Paul Rowlett testified about Chambers’ and Tellis’ phone data, some of the most critical evidence in the prosecution’s case. He claimed that phone data put Chambers and Tellis together at the same location just before, or possibly even during, Chambers’ murder. The prosecution has theorized that during this time, Tellis and Chambers may have had, or attempted to have, sex then somehow Tellis incapacitated her. Needing to get rid of the evidence, the State argued, he drove her car to the rural area and, a short time later set her on fire. The defense team questioned Rowlett about the accuracy of such cell data placing the two together shortly before the crime.
[Photo: Oxygen screengrab]