Retrial begins for man accused in woman’s burning death

FILE – In this Oct. 16, 2017 photo, Quinton Tellis sits during his trial in Batesville, Miss. A second trial is set to begin Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018 on charges that Tellis set Jessica Chambers on fire, leading to her death. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, Pool, File)

BATESVILLE, Miss. –  Prosecutors say evidence will show a man killed a Mississippi woman by setting her on fire, but defense attorneys say prosecutors can’t prove it and that someone else killed her.

Quinton Tellis is being retried on capital murder charges in the death of Jessica Chambers in 2014, after jurors couldn’t reach a verdict in his first trial last year.

Opening statements began Tuesday in Panola County Circuit Court in Batesville in a trial that could last a week. Jurors were selected Monday in Starkville more than 120 miles (195 kilometers) away because of pretrial publicity.

Tellis faces another murder indictment in the 2015 stabbing death of Meing-Chen Hsiao in Monroe, Louisiana. He’s already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of her debit card. The 29-year-old Tellis is currently serving a prison sentence in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary charge.

Prosecutors say cellphone locations, video, DNA on a keychain and Tellis’ statements link him to Chambers’ death. A new witness may testify she picked up Tellis that night near where Chambers, who was 19, was burned.

"Once you hear all the evidence the state offers, you’re going to have plenty of evidence to convict him of capital murder," Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale told jurors.

The defense emphasized that multiple emergency workers heard the dying Chambers say someone named "Eric" attacked her, calling the prosecution’s evidence "speculation" or "unreliable." Defense attorney Darla Palmer urged jurors to disregard evidence about cellphone locations that she said can’t prove Tellis and Chambers were in exactly the same place.

"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 said investigators had interviewed many people named Eric or Derek but ruled all of them out. He said that after the inquiry reached a dead end, investigators re-examined Tellis who had been an early suspect. Hale said investigators focused on him after he changed his story and admitted he had been with Chambers later on the Saturday of her death.

"Quinton Tellis had not been truthful to investigators," Hale said.

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