The capital murder trial of 28-year-old Quinton Verdell Tellis continues on Wednesday. Prosecutors say he’s responsible for the horrific death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers. Court is expected to start at approximately 10am ET/9am CT in Batesville, Mississippi.
A grand jury indicted Tellis for lighting Chambers’ car on fire, leading to her death. Police said they discovered the victim, burns covering 98 percent of her body, on December 6, 2014. The charge is capital murder because the victim passed away during the alleged commission of third-degree arson. District 17 District Attorney John Champion has said prosecutors won’t pursue the death penalty, so if Tellis is found guilty, this defendant he will be guaranteed to be spend the rest of his life in prison. Charged as a habitual offender for three prior convictions, he would not have a chance at parole.
Monday brought opening statements.
First up, Champion. Describing Chambers as a “beautiful, blonde-haired 19-year-old,” he set the basis of the state’s case. The victim met Tellis two weeks before her death, he said. On December 6, they and a mutual friend hung out in the morning. Champion argued that surveillance footage and cell phone records shown during the trial would establish the location of Chambers and Tellis over the course of that day.
Champion already tried to address a possible complication for the state’s case. Firefighters who reported to where Chamber’s car was found burning had said that she told them “Eric” was responsible. Clearly, not the name of the defendant on trial. Champion said that Chambers’ esophagus was so badly burnt that this distorted her speech. With that in mind, he said that jurors would see photos of her esophagus, thus proving this point.
Tellis’ lawyer Darla Palmer was up next. Where Champion took almost an hour to laid out the basis of his case, Palmer didn’t make it to 10 minutes. Palmer said that Chambers, who was “alert, able to speak,” told at least eight first responders a man named Eric was responsible for burning her and her car. The victim gave consistent statements, as shown by official reports.
“She didn’t say any other name,” Palmer said. On top of that, the cell phone data used to place Tellis’ location was imprecise. Records showed that her client was buying a Green Dot card 5 miles away at the time of the crime, she said.
Chambers’ mother Lisa Daugherty was first up to testify. She said her daughter took a nap mid-day on December, until being awakened by a call or text. Chambers later left home, and then called Daugherty to say she was getting something to eat. On the stand, Daugherty said there was no music in the background, leading her to believe her daughter was not alone.
Kesha Myers, who knew both the victim and defendant, testified next. She said all three of them hung out that morning to smoke marijuana for one to two hours before they dropped Tellis off near a grocery story on Highway 51. She claimed they Chambers and Tellis hugged, but she believed Chambers was afraid to do so.
Glenn Williams testified next. He said he was driving with Latroy Rudd when they came across Chambers’ burning car.
Cole Haley, who was Fire Chief for the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department on December 6, 2014, took the stand next. He testified to finding the horrifically burned Chambers at the scene. She told him she had been set on fire. He said she never blamed the crime on anyone named Eric.
Under cross-examination, Palmer confronted Haley with his report from the time of the burning. In that document, he wrote that Chambers did blame the crime on someone named Eric.
“I was in a daze,” Haley said in court.
Courtland Fire Captain Jody Morris testified last. He testified to also being at the scene, talking to the badly burned Chambers. She blamed the incident on someone named Eric, he said. As with Haley, Palmer made him read his own report, in which he wrote that the victim said Eric set her on fire, and that she didn’t know this man’s name.
This isn’t the only murder Tellis has been charged with. In a separate allegation, authorities in Louisiana claim he stabbed to death 34-year-old Meing-Chen Hsiao in 2015. As in the Chambers case, it is alleged he knew the victim before her death.
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