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

  • Trump won't pardon sheriff; tensions high at rally site

    World News CTV News
    PHOENIX -- U.S. President Donald Trump won't pardon former sheriff Joe Arpaio during his visit to Arizona, the White House said Tuesday as supporters and protesters gathered near the site of Trump's latest campaign rally. Source
  • Niki Ashton rejects NDP leadership endorsement from man B'nai Brith calls a Holocaust denier

    Canada News CBC News
    NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton is rejecting unwanted political support from a controversial Canadian-Palestinian that B'nai Brith Canada has singled out as a Holocaust denier. "It has come to my attention that our campaign was shown support by a member of the public on Facebook known to hold anti-Semitic views and has made public comments denying the atrocities of the Holocaust," Ashton said in a statement Tuesday. Source
  • 4 Winnipeg teens charged after man's online date ends in car jacking

    Canada News CTV News
    WINNIPEG -- Four Winnipeg teenagers have been charged in what police say was an online dating scam that ended with a man's vehicle being stolen. Police say the teens created a fake profile on a popular dating website with the sole intent of luring a person to a location for a robbery. Source
  • In chaotic meeting, Charlottesville votes to shroud statues

    World News CTV News
    The Charlottesville City Council voted to drape two Confederate statues in black fabric during a chaotic meeting packed with irate residents who screamed and cursed at councillors over the city's response to a white nationalist rally. Source
  • Photographer Boris Spremo remembered for charm, skill, chutzpah

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- Award-winning photojournalist Boris Spremo, a blue-eyed charmer who captured intimate and surprising moments from world leaders and average citizens alike, has died. The retired newsman died Monday in hospital after a short battle with cancer, said Diana Spremo, one of his four daughters. Source
  • B.C. Mountie enforcing distracted driving rules struck in hit-and-run

    Canada News CTV News
    RICHMOND, B.C. -- RCMP say a Mountie enforcing distracted driving laws in Richmond, B.C., was hit by a vehicle that fled the scene. Police say an officer stopped a brown 2005 Audi after the driver was seen allegedly using a mobile device while behind the wheel on Monday. Source
  • Bourbon, pizzas and spaghetti sauce cover Arkansas roads

    World News Toronto Sun
    CAMDEN, Ark. — It’s a smorgasbord on Arkansas highways, with the third food spill in as many weeks. A truck driver distracted by a GPS unit crashed near the intersection of U.S. 278 and Arkansas 24 at Camden early Monday and spilled a truckload of spaghetti sauce. Source
  • Ontario man in U.S. custody faces more child sex exploitation charges in Canada

    Canada News CTV News
    MARKHAM, Ont. -- Ontario Provincial Police say a Canadian man charged in the U.S. after allegedly flying to Atlanta in an attempt to have sex with an underage girl he met online will face further charges in Canada. Source
  • Cross-border booze appeal a chance to hit reset on interprovincial trade, MP says

    Canada News CBC News
    A Conservative MP in British Columbia is urging Canadians to contact their members of Parliament about the New Brunswick case involving cross-border alcohol limits that heads to the Supreme Court of Canada in December. Dan Albas, who previously fought for interprovincial wine trade, says the case of Gerard Comeau is an opportunity for the country to "hit the reset button" on interprovincial trade as a whole. Source
  • Minor clashes as Trump protesters flood downtown Phoenix

    World News CBC News
    Protesters got into minor scuffles and shouting matches with U.S. President Donald Trump supporters on Tuesday as hundreds of people lined up to get inside a Phoenix, Ariz., rally that marks his first political event since the violence in Charlottesville, Va. Source