The trial for the suspected killer of Jessica Chambers has come to a close, with a hung jury and no verdict. The judge declared a mistrial but that doesn’t mean the accused killer, Quinton Tellis is off the hook.
Tellis can still be re-tried and charged with Capitol Murder which carries a life sentence without parole. District Attorney John Champion said the retrial would not be a quick turn over; it could be July of 2018 before they can get back in front of the judge.
On December 6, 2014, first responders in Panola County were called to the scene of a burning car. When they arrived, they found a young woman, 19-year-old Jessica Chambers, with severe burns covering her entire body.
She was rushed to a Memphis hospital where she died just one day later due to her injuries.
Reports found that Chambers had been doused with gasoline and set on fire, burning alive inside of her vehicle in Courtland, Mississippi. At the time, investigators found very little evidence to point to the person or persons responsible for her death.
Jessica was laid to rest days later after a service at Wells Funeral Home in Batesville, MS.
After her death, the Panola County Sheriff’s Department began to spearhead the investigation into who killed Jessica Chambers. They were assisted by agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which specialize in gang activity.
Officials discussed the possibility of the crime being carried out by a gang since groups such as the Gangsters Disciples and Mafia Insane Vice Lords are prevalent in the North Mississippi region.
“Nothing is off the table at this point,” said Panola County District Attorney John Champion. “There is no evidence to suggest it’s a hate crime or gang-related; but who is to say that won’t change in the next five minutes.”
What they found out was that Chambers was home until 5:00 p.m. on December 6. After that, she left and went to Gurley’s Store. Her mother said Jessica planned to clean out her car and get something to eat.
She was later seen in the Highway 6 area and was in the location she would eventually be found burned by 7:31 p.m. Reports of a burning vehicle came into investigators at 8:09 p.m.
Video footage recovered from M&M Gas Station showed that was the last place Chambers was seen. When questioned, the business owner, Ali Alsanai said Chambers came to the store and then left, that was all he knew.
When police viewed the footage from the gas station, 53 seconds was missing in the video during the time that Chambers had entered and left on the night of her death. Alsanai said he had no idea why that chunk of footage was missing.
Champion and other law enforcement began reaching out to the public for any information regarding who was involved in this crime. Rewards began to pile on for information. It started at $1,000, shortly after it was raised $10,000 and eventually the monetary offer for help was over $50,000.
“There’s not a lot of street talk out there about who may or may not have done this, so it’s making our job a little bit more difficult,” said Champion. “We feel like there is somebody out there who knows something or has heard something and just may not have come forward yet. This is a horrendous crime and nobody deserves to die like that.”
Nearly two years after Chambers’ death, a man was arrested in February 2016 and charged with her heinous murder, that man was Quinton Tellis.
Tellis was facing charges for an unrelated crime in Louisiana when officials linked him, through cell phone records and video surveillance from the gas station, to Chambers on the day of her death.
He was charged with Capital Murder in her death but was not released from Louisiana at the time due to his pending charges there. Governor Phil Bryant contacted Louisiana Governor, John Bel Edwards with a Governor’s Warrant to extradite Tellis to Mississippi to stand trial in Chambers’ murder. His request was granted, and Tellis was brought to Mississippi.
Jury selection began in Panola County on Monday, October 9, 2017. A jury was chosen, and the trial began. With a Capitol Murder charge, Tellis could face the death penalty, but it was unclear if the District Attorney would pursue that punishment.
During the trial, details emerged including what firefighters on the scene said Chambers’ last words were. They claim she was trying to say a name, like “Eric” or “Derek.” Dr. William Hickerson of Memphis combatted these statments and said that Chambers would not have been able to speak clearly due to the damage that was done to her throat by the fire.
DA Champion said the prosecution ran a fact based case, referring heavily to cell phone records and video surveillance, as well as Tellis’ statements about his interactions with Chambers, which put Chambers and Tellis together just minutes before she was believed to have been set on fire.
After nearly 10 hours of deliberation the jury came back with a not guilty verdict, but it was quickly found that was not a unanimous decision. After being sent back twice the jury returned only to be read the instructions for passing a verdict by Judge Gerald Chatham.
They again returned to their quarters to deliberate.
The final time the jury entered the courtroom, they presented Judge Chatham with a report, but not a verdict. The report stated that they could not unanimously agree on the verdict, thus becoming a hung jury. The judge then declared a mistrial and the jury was released.
Tellis is currently being held on loan from Louisiana via Governor’s Warrant. He faces first-degree murder charges in Louisiana after pleading guilty to one count of unauthorized use of a debit card that belonged to the murder victim Ming-Chen Hsiao, back in May. He was given 10 years of hard labor for the plea.
DA Champion said they absolutely intend to pursue a retrial as soon as possible, but unless something dramatic comes to light, it will be the same case presented just to a different jury. Until then, Jessica’s family will wait to see justice brought for her murder.