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