Jury in trial of burned wo­man vis­its key lo­ca­tions in case

Starkville Daily News - - AROUND TOWN - By ADRIAN SAINZ As­so­ci­ated Press

BATESVILLE, Miss. (AP) — 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-year-old 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, Ten­nessee.

Tel­lis could re­ceive life in prison with­out pa­role if con­victed in Batesville, about 50 miles (80 kilo­me­ters) south of Mem­phis. His lawyer says 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.

The panel was then driven to the area where Cham­bers’ burn­ing car was found on a grassy em­bank­ment near a gate block­ing the en­trance to pri­vate prop­erty. Dur­ing the drive, mo­torists stopped to watch the car­a­van — per­haps mis­tak­ing it for a funeral pro­ces­sion. Of­fi­cers blocked in­ter­sec­tions and peo­ple waved to the mo­tor­cade of ve­hi­cles with blink­ing hazard lights.

Thomp­son said Cham­bers was seen walk­ing to­ward the car and treated on the back road, next to a firetruck.

Next stop was a shal­low gully near the crime scene where Courtland res­i­dent Jerry King tes­ti­fied he found Cham­bers’ keys while talk­ing his child for a walk in the days af­ter Cham­bers died. Cham­pion has said Tel­lis dropped Cham­bers’ keys as he ran to his sis­ter’s house, and that Tel­lis’ DNA is on them.

The group then went to the home of fire­fighter Daniel Cole on a dirt road near the crime scene and the gully. Thomp­son said a tree-lined dirt road be­hind Cole’s house leads to a sub­di­vi­sion where Tel­lis’ sis­ter lived. The jury then saw the other end of the ac­cess road at Tel­lis’ sis­ter’s wood-framed house.

Robert­son asked in­ves­ti­ga­tor Thomp­son if there is ev­i­dence that Tel­lis was in the area of Cole’s house or the ac­cess road the night Cham­bers was found. Thomp­son said there wasn’t.

M&M Gro­cery Store was next. An out­door sur­veil­lance cam­era points at Tel­lis’ house across the street. Pros­e­cu­tors plan to use the video to iden­tify when ve­hi­cles left the area of Tel­lis’ house.

Ju­rors then got to see Tel­lis’ house on High­way 51 and the shed where he al­legedly stopped to pick up the gas con­tainer. The fi­nal stop was a back road ad­ja­cent to Tel­lis’ house, where Tel­lis said he had sex with Cham­bers.

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