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."


Latest Canada & World News

  • Hacked emails show Clinton campaign weighing Keystone XL decision

    Canada News CBC News
    Hacked emails show Hillary Clinton's campaign wrestled with how to announce her opposition to construction of the Keystone XL pipeline without losing the support of labour unions that supported the project. Emails published this past week by WikiLeaks show debate and confusion within the Clinton camp as it faced down the unexpectedly strong primary challenge by liberal Senator Bernie Sanders, who opposed the pipeline. Source
  • Ottawa man convicted of sexually abusing young girls facing new charges of public nudity, mischief

    Canada News CTV News
    An Ottawa daycare operator convicted last year of sexually abusing young girls in his care is now facing new charges, including public nudity and mischief to property. Jeffrey Wills, 42, was arrested on Thursday at his home in the city’s west end after police received a call about a naked man in the area. Source
  • Ex-Habs coach Jacques Demers hospitalized after suffering stroke

    Canada News CBC News
    Former NHL coach Jacques Demers has been hospitalized after suffering a stroke, Radio-Canada is reporting. The gravity of the stroke is not known. He is 72 years old. Demers also suffered a stroke on April 6 that was followed by three months of intensive rehabilitative therapy. Source
  • Jehovah's Witnesses defend pushing for bloodless surgeries

    Canada News CBC News
    Hospital visits by Jehovah's Witness elders, aimed at defending the right of members to refuse blood transfusions, are under scrutiny following the death of a 27-year-old Quebec woman who hemorrhaged earlier this month. One former Witness described the hospital liaison committees as "intimidating. Source
  • AT&T set to announce purchase of Time Warner for $85B US

    World News CBC News
    AT&T Inc. is set to announce as early as Saturday an $85 billion US deal to buy Time Warner Inc, sources familiar with the matter said, giving the telecom company control of cable TV channels HBO and CNN, film studio Warner Bros. Source
  • Father sentenced to 1,503 years in prison in daughter’s rape

    World News Toronto Sun
    FRESNO, Calif. — A Fresno man was sentenced to 1,503 years in prison for raping his teenage daughter over a four-year period. The 41-year-old was sentenced Friday to the longest-known prison sentence in Fresno Superior Court history, the Fresno Bee reported. Source
  • Hackers used 'internet of things' devices to cause Friday's massive DDoS cyberattack

    World News CBC News
    Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids' toys bring the internet to its knees? It's beginning to look that way. On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across North America and Europe such as Twitter, Netflix and PayPal. Source
  • Tim Kaine sees working with GOP as key to post-election healing

    World News CTV News
    BOSTON -- Tim Kaine is sounding a hopeful note that a Democratic White House could work with Republicans to bridge deep divides laid bare by this bitter presidential campaign. The vice-presidential candidate told The Associated Press on Saturday that he and Hillary Clinton have already spoken about how to heal the nation if they should win. Source
  • 'We are not being invaded,' Toronto police tweet during military exercise

    Canada News CTV News
    Toronto police had an important message Saturday for anyone who spotted military activity down by the city’s waterfront: “We are not being invaded.” Canadian soldiers and army combat engineers conducted assault boat landing exercises on Toronto’s western beaches, including Sunnyside Park, Sir Casimir Gzowski Park and Hanlan’s Point Beach on the Toronto Islands. Source
  • Hockey fans flock to watch Hall of Fame players at Heritage Classic

    Canada News CBC News
    People are preparing to see the Great One, Wayne Gretzky, take the ice at the Heritage Classic Alumni game in Winnipeg Saturday. It's also a flashback to a fierce rivalry between two NHL teams — the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers — going back to the 1970s. Source