Jessica Chambers murder: Four years after teen was burned to death, her case still remains a mystery
The family of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers is still trying to bring their daughter's killer to justice, with two trials of a suspect ending with no verdict
There continues to be a mystery surrounding the death of 19-year-old Mississippi cheerleader Jessica Chambers, who was burned alive and murdered in 2014. Two trials since then have failed to reach a verdict on the guilt of the primary suspect, 29-year-old Quinton Tellis, with a jury unable to reach a conclusion on either occasion, and her family is still struggling to understand who could have killed her.
On the evening of December 6, 2014, a truck driver spotted a car fire along a rural road in Courtland, Mississippi, and called 911. When firefighters responded to the scene, they found a Kia Rio in flames and saw a woman who had also been set on fire and walking towards them wearing nothing but her underwear.
According to People, the woman, later identified as Chambers, begged firefighters for help. They managed to douse the fires and wrapped her in a blanket before laying her down. However, her injuries would prove to be too serious. The intensity of the fire had bleached her Kia's black exterior white and resulted in her sustaining burns across 98% of her body, and she died soon after.
However, before dying, paramedics had managed to ask her who had done this to her, with the 19-year-old reportedly whispering a name that sounded either like 'Eric' or 'Derek'.
Tonight on @ID, @People Magazine Investigates looks into the #JessicaChambers case. I’m not in this one, but I worked some with the people putting it together and I thought a lot of their thoroughness so far. Catch it at 7 p.m. central time on ID, which is 285 on @DIRECTV. pic.twitter.com/Kq1PXk8ip3— Therese Apel (@TRex21) February 18, 2019
It would go on to be a key piece of evidence used by the defense during the trial of Tellis, who already had a past criminal record — including an indictment for murder in the 2015 stabbing death of a University of Louisiana student — and who was seen with her less than two hours before her murder.
A first trial would end in a hung jury. During his second trial, which had jurors selected from Starkville, more than 120 miles away, because of the pretrial publicity surrounding the case, the prosecution would present further evidence, including location data, that put him at the scene of the murder. Testimony by an FBI agent also suggested the 29-year-old had deleted text threads between him and Chambers which showed he pestered her for sex.
However, the defense would once again be successful in raising reasonable doubt through a total of 10 emergency responders who testified how they had heard Chambers say a man named either 'Eric' or 'Derek' attacked her. The second trial, which ended last October, was declared a mistrial as well.
People reported that her family is still searching for answers, with her father Ben Chambers previously telling the site, "What could a [small] 19-year-old girl do to make you burn somebody alive? This is beyond murder. This is revengeful, hateful killing."
Slain 19-Year-Old Jessica Chambers 'Loved Everybody' — So Who Wanted Her Dead? https://t.co/ElJ280vK1a— People (@people) February 18, 2019
Chambers had graduated high school with all As and Bs, worked a job, and was a regular at church. Her mother said the 19-year-old "wasn't putting herself in a place or with people to kill her." She described the cheerleader as just another "normal teenager" who "loved everybody". Her friends said she was funny, smart, and easy to get along with.
However, they also revealed that she had been running with a "rough crowd" in the days up to her death. "I think she was making friends with the wrong people, with drug dealers," he ex-boyfriend said. However, he added she had done "nothing that was bad to get herself burnt alive."