Man charged in burning death of Mississippi cheerleader

BATESVILLE, Miss. -- It took investigators more than a year of painstaking work, but they say they have finally cracked the case of a former high school cheerleader who was found near death in her rural Mississippi hometown after being doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.

See Full Article

District Attorney John Champion announced Wednesday that Quinton Verdell Tellis, 27, has been charged with capital murder in the death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers. She was found along a road, badly burned, on Dec. 6, 2014. Her vehicle was on fire. She suffered burns over 98 per cent of her body and died hours later at a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

"This has been the most unusual case that I've ever dealt with," Champion said. "Obviously, the nature of how she died was very brutal, very horrendous."

Champion says Tellis and Chambers knew each other and were friends, but he would not describe a motive. Champion did say he believed it was a "personal crime" and not related to drug or gang activity. The prosecutor also said he would not reveal to reporters what Chambers had told firefighters who had arrived at the scene.

The horrific circumstances surrounding the young woman's death garnered national attention and cast light on concerns about violent crime in rural towns like Courtland, where Chambers and Tellis lived. Investigators were stymied early on because they were receiving no information from their "street sources," leading authorities to theorize that the killing was done by one person who told no one about what happened, Champion said.

After she died, relatives described Chambers as an athletic and outgoing person who, at various times, had expressed interest in becoming a nurse, a dentist and a writer. She was friendly and trusting of others, relatives and friends said. She had been a cheerleader and softball player at South Panola High School.

Ben Chambers, the victim's father, said he never gave up hope that someone would be charged.

"She'll be at peace now," he said. "Whatever the law allows ... that's what I hope happens to" Tellis, he said.

Surveillance video showed Jessica Chambers at a gas station less than two hours before she was found. She came by in a dark sweater and pajama pants that looked like sweats, the video shows. She put $14 worth of gas in her car, more than the $5 or so she usually purchased, Ali Fadhel, a clerk at the gas station, told The Associated Press in the days after her death.

"I asked her, 'Why are you putting so much gas?' She said, 'I'm going somewhere,"' Fadhel said.

On her way out, Chambers got a call on her cellphone, Fadhel said. After she pumped gas, she re-entered the store, bought cigarettes and drove away.

Her mother, Lisa Chambers, said she spoke with her daughter by phone about an hour before she was found. Investigators had said they wanted to know where she was between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on the day she died.

"We have absolutely filled that hour in," Champion said, without divulging further details.

About 20,000 telephone numbers were analyzed, more than 150 people were questioned, and investigators travelled to Iowa and Chattanooga, Tennessee, as part of the probe.

Tellis has three prior convictions in Panola County -- two for burglary and one for fleeing from police. He was released from prison in October 2014, two months before Chambers' killing.

Tellis was questioned after Chambers' death but was not named as a suspect at that time, Champion said. Tellis moved to Louisiana in the summer of 2015, and Mississippi investigators travelled there to interview him again, the district attorney said.

Tellis was arrested in Louisiana on Aug. 20 on three counts of unauthorized use of a debit card. He is being held in the Ouachita Parish Correctional Center in Monroe, Louisiana.

Monroe police in November identified Tellis as a suspect in the death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a recent University of Louisiana at Monroe graduate from Taiwan who was found dead in her apartment in August, killed by stabbing. Tellis has not been charged in the 34-year-old Hsiao's death but has been charged with using her debit cards after she died.

Tellis is accused of using Hsiao's debit card, taking $1,000. An affidavit filed by police in the case says Tellis admitted to using the card under questioning, and that there are ATM photos of him using the card.

He is also charged with one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Bail was set at $200,000 on the Louisiana charges.

M. Randall Donald, a lawyer for Tellis in Louisiana, did not immediately return a call Wednesday.

Tellis will be transferred to Mississippi after the case against him in Louisiana is completed, Champion said. It is not clear how long that process will take.

"This is nothing but hurdle No. 1," Champion said. "We're nowhere near the end."



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Woman survived two-hour conversation with killer by showing 'no fear'

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- After John Strang shot and killed his wife in their Saskatchewan home, he drove his Jeep -- packed with guns, ammunition, handcuffs and duct tape -- to the home of a female friend for a chilling conversation. Source
  • U.K. police respond to reports of gunman in leisure complex

    World News CBC News
    British police are dealing with what they call an "ongoing incident" at a leisure park in Nuneaton, Central England. There are reports of a gunman in the complex, which houses a movie theatre and bowling alley. Source
  • Quebec women who've worn niqabs discuss province's controversial neutrality bill

    Canada News CTV News
    MONTREAL -- Warda Naili says the first time she donned a niqab six years ago, it became a part of her. The Quebec woman, a convert to Islam, said she decided to cover her face out of a desire to practice her faith more authentically and to protect her modesty. Source
  • Officials: International students won't face immigration penalties during college strike

    Canada News CTV News
    Tens of thousands of international students affected by a faculty strike at Ontario colleges are being reassured by immigration officials that they won't be penalized for a delay that is beyond their control. But some international students say the work stoppage, which began last Monday, has them worrying about finances as well as their education and immigration status. Source
  • Judge praises sex-assault victim, jails her abusive former supervisor

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- He was her supervisor and sexually abused her for months -- repeatedly groping her and making sexual comments, all under the guise of joking around. Now a 51-year-old Halifax man is going to jail -- and the judge is praising the courage of the young woman, who couldn't get other managers to help her. Source
  • Some towns offer fitness passes instead of candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters

    Canada News CTV News
    REGINA -- The gleeful "trick or treat" that children shout when they call at houses on Halloween is getting a healthier response in some cities across Canada.Scroll down or click here to vote in our poll of the day Instead of candy, little ghosts and goblins on some doorsteps are getting passes to go swimming, skating and even skiing. Source
  • Time to toss the ethics commissioner off the bus

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    During one of testier exchanges during the Morneau Affair -- capitalized here to designate an official scandal -- the NDP's ethics and deputy finance critic, Nathan Cullen, accused Justin Trudeau of throwing the ethics commissioner under the bus. Source
  • Letter penned a day before Titanic sank sold at U.K. auction

    World News CTV News
    LONDON - A letter written by one of the Titanic's passengers a day before the ocean liner sank has sold for £126,000 ($166,000 US) at an auction in England. The handwritten note, on embossed Titanic stationery, was penned by first-class passenger Alexander Oskar Holverson on April 13, 1912 -- the day before the ship hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic, killing more than 1,500 onboard. Source
  • 'Trifecta of rain storms' triggers flooding fears in B.C.

    Canada News CTV News
    Rainfall warnings remain in effect for parts of B.C.’s Lower Mainland, with wet weather to continue on Sunday for the already-saturated region. Environment Canada cautions residents to prepare for localized flooding, particularly in Howe Sound and Fraser Valley. Source
  • Drama expected at Bergdahl sentencing hearing

    World News CTV News
    Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, right, arrives for a motions hearing on Monday, Oct.16, 2017, on Fort Bragg. Bergdahl, who walked off his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and was held by the Taliban for five years, is charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Source