Jury in trial of burned woman vis­its key lo­ca­tions in the case

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - REGION - BY ADRIAN SAINZ

BATESVILLE, Miss. — Rid­ing in white vans, 15 ju­rors in the trial of a man charged with set­ting a woman on fire and killing her were taken through the streets and dirt roads of two small Mis­sis­sippi towns Thurs­day to visit the crime scene, houses, a con­ve­nience store and other key lo­ca­tions in the case.

Fol­low­ing in a car­a­van of more than 15 ve­hi­cles were Cir­cuit Judge Ger­ald Chatham, pros­e­cu­tors, de­fense at­tor­neys, me­dia, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers and rel­a­tives of Quin­ton Tel­lis, who is charged with cap­i­tal mur­der in the death of 19-yearold Jes­sica Cham­bers.

Pros­e­cu­tors say Tel­lis set Cham­bers’ car on fire along a back road near a tree farm in Court­land in De­cem­ber 2014. A pass­ing mo­torist saw a smol­der­ing Cham­bers walk­ing down the road and called au­thor­i­ties.

Emer­gency per­son­nel treated and spoke with Cham­bers, who had burns on most of her body. She died at a hospi­tal in Mem­phis.

Tel­lis could re­ceive life in prison with­out pa­role if con­victed in Batesville, about 50 miles south of Mem­phis. His lawyer said he’s falsely ac­cused. Fire­fight­ers tes­ti­fied they heard Cham­bers say some­one named Eric set her on fire. Pros­e­cu­tor John Cham­pion con­tends that she could have been say­ing “Tel­lis,” but the dam­age done to her throat and mouth made it sound dif­fer­ent.

The nearly three-hour trip to eight lo­ca­tions was in­tended to sup­port the pros­e­cu­tion’s the­ory through vi­su­als. Cit­ing state­ments Tel­lis made to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Cham­pion said Tel­lis and Cham­bers had sex in her car on a dirt road next to his house on the evening of Dec. 6. 2014. Cham­pion said he be­lieves Tel­lis suf­fo­cated Cham­bers and thought he had killed her.

Tel­lis then drove Cham­bers’ car with her in­side it to a back road about a mile away, ran to his sis­ter’s house nearby, bor­rowed a car, stopped to pick up gaso­line from a shed at his house and torched Cham­bers’ car with her in­side, Cham­pion said.

Ju­rors were taken to the Panola County Sher­iff’s De­part­ment, where her scorched car is stored. Car­ry­ing note­books and pens, they in­spected the com­pact car, stained with dark or­ange rust. Au­thor­i­ties said Cham­bers was dis­cov­ered walk­ing along the road near the burn­ing car, wear­ing only un­der­wear.

At each stop, pros­e­cu­tor Jay Hale asked in­ves­ti­ga­tor Barry Thomp­son to de­scribe the lo­ca­tion and its role in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. De­fense lawyer Al­ton Peter­son then cross-ex­am­ined Thomp­son. Ev­ery­one stood — ex­cept for the court re­porter, who had a chair.

BRAD VEST/THE COM­MER­CIAL AP­PEAL VIA AP

Quin­ton Tel­lis, cen­ter, walks near the M&M First Stop con­ve­nience store dur­ing a field trip Thurs­day in Batesville, Miss. Tel­lis is charged with burn­ing 19-year-old Jes­sica Cham­bers to death al­most three years ago and has pleaded not guilty to the mur­der.

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