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Opening statements are scheduled to begin Tuesday at 10 a.m. EST in the retrial of Quinton Verdell Tellis. The prosecution will argue that he is the person who set 19-year-old Jessica Chambers and her car on fire December 6, 2014 in Courtland, Mississippi.

How will both sides change and polish their arguments from the first time? They might have to adjust their approach in order to avoid another confused, hung jury.

Tellis is charged with capital murder. Last time, testimony and records established that volunteer firefighters found Chambers still alive at the scene. Burns covered almost her entire body. First responders said that they asked her who did this to her. They reported hearing her say the name “Erick” or “Derrick.” 17th Circuit Court District Attorney John Champion argued that she might have been trying to say Tellis. He cited testimony that Chambers mispronounced her own name as “Yalmbers,” and that her vocal chords were injured.

Defense lawyer Darla Palmer dismissed this, saying the victim was consistent in her answers to firefighters.

Champion suggested that the murder happened because Chamber turned down Tellis for sex. The prosecution pointed out that the defendant’s DNA was found on her car keys. It was established that they hung out that morning with another friend, and had known each other for about two weeks. The prosecution argued that he suffocated her, believed he had killed her, and attempted to hide the evidence with a fire.

The defendant was able to establish an alibi about 30 minutes after the fire, but couldn’t corroborate his whereabouts during the incident. Champion said cell phone tower evidence put Tellis at the arson. Again, Palmer dismissed it, saying the tower couldn’t pinpoint her client’s location. Her co-counsel Alton Peterson argued the investigators failed to collect enough evidence from the fire, and failed to follow leads, including an unknown suspicious man witnessed at the scene.

Neither argument carried the day. The jury was deadlocked. Perhaps the new jurors will reach a consensus this time. Perhaps not.

Tellis faces up to life in prison if convicted.

[Mugshot of Tellis via Ouachita Parish Sheriff; image of Chambers via Facebook support group]


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