Mississippi man accused of burning girl to death on trial

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  • Quinton Tellis has been charged in December 2014 death of Jessica Chambers
  • Chambers was found burning alive on a rural road in Mississippi by her car
  • Prosecutors say the two were having sex and Tellis suffocated Chambers
  • Fearing he killed her, he then set her body and her car on fire, prosecutor said
  • But defense attorneys said Chambers told first responders who found her that a man named Eric had  set her on fire
  • Tellis pleaded 'not guilty' and faces life in prison if convicted of capital murder

By Associated Press

Published: 14:19 EDT, 10 October 2017 | Updated: 03:15 EDT, 11 October 2017

The man accused of killing a 19-year-old Mississippi woman allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her, prosecutors said on Tuesday. 

This week. the trial began for 29-year-old Quinton Tellis who has pleaded 'not guilty' in the murder of Jessica Chambers. 

While prosecutors say Tellis is responsible, a defense attorney said Chambers told firefighters who found her near her burning car that a man named Eric set her on fire - not Tellis.

The trial began on Tuesday for Quinton Tellis, 29 (pictured), the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chamblers of Mississippi by allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her during sex, prosecutors said
The trial began on Tuesday for Quinton Tellis, 29 (pictured), the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chamblers of Mississippi by allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her during sex, prosecutors said
The trial began on Tuesday for Quinton Tellis, 29, the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chamblers (pictured) of Mississippi by allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her during sex, prosecutors said
The trial began on Tuesday for Quinton Tellis, 29, the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chamblers (pictured) of Mississippi by allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her during sex, prosecutors said

The trial began on Tuesday for Quinton Tellis, 29 (left), the man accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chamblers (right) of Mississippi by allegedly burned her alive in her car after he mistakenly thought he had suffocated her during sex, prosecutors said

Chambers had burns on about 93 percent of her body when she was found along a rural back road beside her burnt out car (pictured) on December 6, 2014
Chambers had burns on about 93 percent of her body when she was found along a rural back road beside her burnt out car (pictured) on December 6, 2014

Chambers had burns on about 93 percent of her body when she was found along a rural back road beside her burnt out car (pictured) on December 6, 2014

The horrific circumstances surrounding the former high school cheerleader's death garnered national attention. The former high school cheerleader had been doused with a flammable liquid, set ablaze, and left to die beside her burning car 

Prosecutor John Champion told jurors that they will see graphic photos of a burned Chambers and they will hear from about 35 witnesses. 

Chambers had burns on about 93 percent of her body when she was found along a rural back road on December 6, 2014, the prosecutor said. She died hours later at a Memphis hospital.

He said Tellis repeatedly lied to investigators about spending time with her in the hours before she was found. He also said that Tellis had repeatedly asked Chambers for sex, and she had denied him.

Champion said cellphone records show that Chambers and Tellis - who had met about two weeks before her death and had become friends - were together twice on the day she was burned.

Tellis (pictured) has pleaded 'not guilty' in the December 2014 death  
Tellis (pictured) has pleaded 'not guilty' in the December 2014 death  

Tellis (pictured) has pleaded 'not guilty' in the December 2014 death  

The duo rode around in her car for a while that morning before Chambers dropped off Tellis at his house and she went home to take a nap, the prosecutor said. 

Chambers then picked up Tellis about at 5.30pm and they went to a fast food restaurant, Champion said.

Citing statements Tellis made to investigators, the prosecutor said Tellis and Chambers had sex in her car later that evening. Champion said he believes Tellis suffocated Chambers and thought he had killed her.

Tellis then drove Chambers's car with her inside it to the back road,  drove the car to his sister's house nearby, jumped in his sister's car, stopped to pick up gasoline from a shed at his house and torched Chambers' car and her, Champion said.

'Horrific burns,' Champion said. 'Horrific pain.'

Chambers was found walking on the road - wearing only underwear in 40F (?C) temperatures - when a passing motorist spotted her shortly after 8pm, Champion said. 

Her car keys were later found nearby, and they had Tellis's DNA on them, Champion said.

Authorities have said previously that Chambers was on fire when she was found.

Champion said Tellis first told investigators he only saw Chambers on the morning of her death.

Champion said cellphone records show that Chambers (pictured) and Tellis - who had met about two weeks before her death and had become friends - were together twice on the day she was burned
Champion said cellphone records show that Chambers (pictured) and Tellis - who had met about two weeks before her death and had become friends - were together twice on the day she was burned
Tellis said he met with Chambers (pictured) that day to sell her marijuana and then they had sex
Tellis said he met with Chambers (pictured) that day to sell her marijuana and then they had sex

Champion said cellphone records show that Chambers (left and right) and Tellis - who had met about two weeks before her death and had become friends - were together twice on the day she was burned.  Tellis said he met with Chambers to sell her marijuana and then they had sex

Quinton Tellis, 29, sits in a Batesville, Miss., courtroom, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. The trial this week could shed some light on the mystery behind the gruesome death of a 19-year-old Mississippi woman who was set on fire and left to die beside her burning car. Tellis has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Jessica Chambers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)
Quinton Tellis, 29, sits in a Batesville, Miss., courtroom, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. The trial this week could shed some light on the mystery behind the gruesome death of a 19-year-old Mississippi woman who was set on fire and left to die beside her burning car. Tellis has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Jessica Chambers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)

Quinton Tellis, 29, sits in a Batesville, Miss., courtroom, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. The trial this week could shed some light on the mystery behind the gruesome death of a 19-year-old Mississippi woman who was set on fire and left to die beside her burning car. Tellis has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Jessica Chambers. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool)

Chambers was found walking on the road - wearing only underwear in 40F temperatures - when a passing motorist spotted her shortly after 8pm, Champion said. Her car keys were later found nearby, and they had Tellis's DNA on them, Champion said. (Pictured, where Chambers was found on December 6)
Chambers was found walking on the road - wearing only underwear in 40F temperatures - when a passing motorist spotted her shortly after 8pm, Champion said. Her car keys were later found nearby, and they had Tellis's DNA on them, Champion said. (Pictured, where Chambers was found on December 6)

Chambers was found walking on the road - wearing only underwear in 40F temperatures - when a passing motorist spotted her shortly after 8pm, Champion said. Her car keys were later found nearby, and they had Tellis's DNA on them, Champion said. (Pictured, where Chambers was found on December 6)

Authorities have said previously that Chambers was on fire when she was found. Champion said Tellis first told investigators he only saw Chambers on the morning of her death. (Pictured, this gas station in Courtland is one of the last places Chambers was seen before her death)
Authorities have said previously that Chambers was on fire when she was found. Champion said Tellis first told investigators he only saw Chambers on the morning of her death. (Pictured, this gas station in Courtland is one of the last places Chambers was seen before her death)

Authorities have said previously that Chambers was on fire when she was found. Champion said Tellis first told investigators he only saw Chambers on the morning of her death. (Pictured, this gas station in Courtland is one of the last places Chambers was seen before her death)

Tellis later acknowledged they were together in the evening, saying he met her to sell her marijuana and that he had sex with her in her car, Champion said. The prosecutor also said Tellis's alibi was fabricated.

Defense attorney Darla Palmer meanwhile claims her client is wrongly accused. She said Tellis was buying a pre-paid debit card miles away in Batesville at the time Chambers was burned.

Palmer also said eight first responders who treated Chambers asked her if she knew who did it.

'She said "Eric set me on fire",' Palmer said. 'She didn't say any other name.'

In his opening statement, Champion acknowledged that the first responders did hear her say the name 'Eric' or 'Derek.' Champion said she could have been saying 'Tellis,', but the damage done to her throat made it sound different.

Palmer told jurors that Tellis never confessed to the killing.

'He insisted this is not something he would do,' Palmer said.

Tellis (pictured, in court) could face life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder. He is also facing another murder indictment in Louisiana
Tellis (pictured, in court) could face life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder. He is also facing another murder indictment in Louisiana

Tellis (pictured, in court) could face life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder. He is also facing another murder indictment in Louisiana

Defense attorney Darla Palmer (pictured, in court, Tuesday) said Chambers told firefighters who found her near her burning car that a man named Eric set her on fire - not Tellis
Defense attorney Darla Palmer (pictured, in court, Tuesday) said Chambers told firefighters who found her near her burning car that a man named Eric set her on fire - not Tellis

Defense attorney Darla Palmer (pictured, in court, Tuesday) said Chambers told firefighters who found her near her burning car that a man named Eric set her on fire - not Tellis

A photo of Jessica Chambers, who was burned to death in December 2014, is taped to the window of her bedroom at her mother's home on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Courtland, Miss.  More than three years after her shocking death, Quinton Tellis is set to go on trial, charged with murder. Jury selection is to begin Monday, Oct. 9. He has pleaded not guilty. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)
A photo of Jessica Chambers, who was burned to death in December 2014, is taped to the window of her bedroom at her mother's home on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Courtland, Miss.  More than three years after her shocking death, Quinton Tellis is set to go on trial, charged with murder. Jury selection is to begin Monday, Oct. 9. He has pleaded not guilty. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

A photo of Jessica Chambers, who was burned to death in December 2014, is taped to the window of her bedroom at her mother's home on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017, in Courtland, Miss. More than three years after her shocking death, Quinton Tellis is set to go on trial, charged with murder. Jury selection is to begin Monday, Oct. 9. He has pleaded not guilty. (AP Photo/Adrian Sainz)

About 20,000 telephone numbers were analyzed in the investigation. Witnesses will include cellphone data experts, Champion said.

Tellis could face life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder. He is also facing another murder indictment in Louisiana.

The 29-year-old is accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. No trial date has been set in that case.

Larry White
By Larry White 11/10/2017 03:15:00