A second trial got under way in Mississippi this morning in the brutal 2014 murder of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers after the first trial ended in a hung jury.
Prosecutors say evidence will show Quinton Tellis killed Chambers by setting her on fire, but defense attorneys say prosecutors can’t prove it and that another man killed her.
Tellis is being retried on capital murder charges, after jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict last year.
Opening statements began Tuesday in Panola County Circuit Court in Batesville in a trial that could last a week. Jurors were selected Monday in Starkville more than 120 miles away because of pretrial publicity.
Take two: Quinton Tellis, 29, is pictured in Mississippi court Tuesday on Day 1 of his second trial. He is accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers by setting her on fire in 2014
Jurors heard testimony from Jessica’s mother, Lisa Chambers, who talked about the teen’s final days
Jessica’s best friend, Lakesha Meyer, testified about meeting Tellis for the first time, just a few days before the deadly attack
Dr. Carolyn Higdon, a speech language pathology expert, told the court that based on Jessica’s injuries, the woman would have been unable to utter the names ‘Eric’ or ‘Derrick’
Tellis faces another murder indictment in the 2015 stabbing death of another woman in Monroe, Louisiana. He’s already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of her debit card.
The 29-year-old defendant is currently serving a prison sentence in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary charge.
Prosecutors say cellphone locations, video, DNA on a keychain and Tellis’ statements link him to Chambers’ death. A new witness may testify she picked up Tellis that night near where Chambers was burned.
‘Once you hear all the evidence the state offers, you’re going to have plenty of evidence to convict him of capital murder,’ Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told jurors.
The defense emphasized that multiple emergency workers heard the dying Chambers say someone named ‘Eric’ attacked her, calling the prosecution’s evidence ‘speculation’ or ‘unreliable.’
Defense attorney Darla Palmer urged jurors to disregard evidence about cellphone locations that she said can’t prove Tellis and Chambers were in exactly the same place.
Telis’ first trial in 2017 ended in a hung jury because the panel could not reach a verdict
‘This evidence is always going to show, it’s always going to say Eric did it, no matter what the state does to diminish that, and we would ask that you find Quinton not guilty.’
Hale said investigators had interviewed many people named Eric or Derek but ruled all of them out. He said that after the inquiry reached a dead end, investigators re-examined Tellis who had been an early suspect.
Hale said investigators focused on him after he changed his story and admitted he had been with Chambers later on the Saturday of her death.
‘Quinton Tellis had not been truthful to investigators,’ Hale said.
On the first day of testimony, the jury heard from Jessica’s mother, Lisa Chambers, who described in detail the last few days in her daughter’s life, reported WREG.
Next up on the stand was Jessica’s best friend Lakesha Meyer, who recounted how she first met Tellis a few days before Chamber’s death, and how the 19-year-old introduced the man as a friend/
Jessica suffered burns to 98 per cent of her body and later died from her injuries
After a break, Dr. Carolyn Higdon, a speech language pathology expert, took the witness stand, telling the court that based on her analysis of autopsy photos showing extensive damage to the victim’s mouth, larynx and lungs, and her conversations with Chambers’ doctor, the young woman would have been unable to utter the names ‘Eric’ or ‘Derrick.’
Tellis has always insisted that he is innocent, telling police in the interrogation room, even after being threatened with the death penalty if it went to trial: ‘I told the truth. I didn’t kill Jessica. It ain’t even in my heart to kill nobody.’
His family claim that the police are simply looking for someone to blame in the case, which has become a highly charged racial issue after Tellis, who is black, was arrested for the death of the pretty, white cheerleader.
Chambers told her mother, Lisa, she was going out to get something to eat at around 5.15pm, on December 6, 2014.
Speaking to the producers of the new docu-series ‘Unspeakable Crime: The Killing of Jessica Chambers,’ which premiered September 15 on Oxygen, Lisa said she called Jessica while she was out to see what time she would be home.
Tellis (left) also faces another murder indictment in Louisiana, where he is accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao (right), a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student
‘I called her and she said ill be home in a little while Momma, but I love you.
‘I told her I loved her too. She said, ‘See you in a little bit.’
‘That’s the last I heard from her.’
Chambers later stumbled out of the woods near her hometown of Courtland, Mississippi, after she and her car were set on fire.
The last time Lisa Chambers saw Jessica alive was at the hospital. Her daughter had suffered burns to 98 per cent of her body and was barely clinging on to life.
The volunteer firefighters and first responders who found Jessica were shocked at the state of her injuries, with one describing her as resembling a ‘zombie.’
He said that one of his fellow firefighters had asked her who had done this to her.
‘She said “Eric did this.” We were all kinda stunned.
During the investigation, police interviewed several people called Eric or Derek, but none were charged.
After Tellis was arrested, prosecutors told the court last year that Jessica may have been trying to say another name but her throat and mouth were so badly burned that it only appeared to sound like ‘Eric’ or ‘Derek.’
Prosecutor John Champion said during the first trial that Tellis thought he suffocated Chambers while they were having sex before he drove her car to a back road.
Prosecutors also showed a number of text messages, which appeared to show Tellis, who was from the same neighborhood as the victim and attended her high school years earlier, pestering Jessica for sex.
After he believed he’d choked her to death, Champion said that Tellis ran to his sister’s house nearby, jumped in his sisters’ car, stopped to pick up gasoline from a shed at his house and torched Chambers’ car and her.
Tellis also faces another murder indictment in Louisiana, where he is accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
Tellis will not return to Louisiana to face the charges or an indictment until the conclusion of his case in Mississippi because of the extradition agreement.