Man accused of burning 19-year-old cheerleader to death admits to meeting her on day of murder and wiping out their text thread
29-year-old Quinton Tellis' retrial has begun, with several new testimonies seeming to indicate that he is guilty of Jessica Chambers' murder
A man who is accused of setting a cheerleader on fire and killing her after they had sex admitted that he deleted a series of text threads between them after her death four years ago. According to FBI Special Agent Dustin Blount, 29-year-old Quinton Tellis admitted to deleting texts between him and the victim, 19-year-old Jessica Chambers, just a few days after her murder on December 6, 2014.
The case has already seen a lot of drama, with the previous trial ending in a hung jury. The current hearing, which is in its third day, therefore, had jurors selected from Starkville, which is more than 120 miles away because of the pretrial publicity surrounding the case.
Blount's testimony that Tellis admitted to driving around with the teen just a few hours before her death, as well as the 29-year-old's own admission that he had an intimate relationship with Chambers, added further credence to the prosecution's assertion that it was Tellis who doused her in gasoline and lit her on fire after the pair had sex.
However, his defense attorneys state that the claim cannot be proven, pointing to the fact that a total of 10 emergency responders testified how they had heard Chambers say a man named either 'Eric' or 'Derek' attacked her.
On that day of her death, Chambers had reportedly stumbled out of the woods near her hometown of Courtland, Mississippi, after she and her car were both set on fire. The 19-year-old had suffered burns to 98% of her body, with volunteer firefighters and first responders describing her as a 'zombie.'
The suspicion is currently solely on Tellis, especially with his past criminal record. According to the Daily Mail, the 29-year-old is already serving a prison sentence in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary charge. He was also indicted for murder in the 2015 stabbing death of 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student Meing-Chen Hsiao at the University of Louisiana in Monroe.
Prosecutors pointed at evidence in the form of cellphone locations, video, DNA on a keychain, and Tellis' statements to state that the 29-year-old was guilty. Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told jurors, "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 also said that investigators had interviewed dozens of people named either Eric or Derek and ruled them all out as suspects, adding how Tellis had been untruthful to investigators by bringing up the fact that he had changed his story after being confronted and admitted to being with Chambers on the night of her death.
Defense attorney Darla Palmer in response had asked the jurors to disregard the location evidence because she said it could not prove that they were at the same location at the same time, though they would be dealt a hefty blow by the way of Dr Carolyn Higdon's testimony.
The defense's case was built around the emergency responders' testimony in the first trial and it appears as though it will be a significant talking point this time around as well. Higdon, a speech-language pathology expert, expressed her doubts about those testimonies by stating that her analysis of autopsy photos showed extensive damage to the victim's mouth, larynx, and lungs, as well as her conversation with Chambers' doctor, brought her to the conclusion that the 19-year-old would not have been able to mutter either 'Eric' or 'Derek.'
Higdon's testimony also backed a previous prosecution claim that Chambers may have been trying to say another name but that her throat and mouth were so badly burned that it only appeared to sound like 'Eric' or 'Derek.' Their showcasing of a number of text messages which appeared to show Tellis pestering Chambers for sex may also prove important as the case moves forward.
The jury has already heard from Chambers' mother Lisa, as well as her best friend Lakesha Meyer, with several more expected to testify. The retrial is expected to last through the end of the week.