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Courts & Trials

Justice for Jessica? Suspect in Burning Death of Jessica Chambers Goes to Trial on Monday

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It was a horrific site: A young woman, on fire, stumbled down a rural road. Police and paramedics tried to save her but failed.

The Dec. 6, 2014, murder of former high school cheerleader Jessica Chambers, shocked the close-knit town of Courtland, Mississippi. Her case garnered national attention, drew online sleuths to a “Justice for Jessica” Facebook page, spawned a large reward for information leading to an arrest and a large-scale manhunt for her killer.

Now, almost three years later, the trial of Quinton Tellis, who grew up in the same neighborhood and attended the same high school as Chambers, is expected to begin in Panola County circuit court in Batesville on Monday.

The jury, which will be sequestered for the duration of the much-anticipated trial, is expected to be picked on Monday and opening statements should begin Tuesday.

Prosecutors are expected to call as many as 40 witnesses.

OUACHITA PARISH SHERIFF

Chambers, 19, was doused with an accelerant and set on fire Dec. 6, 2014. Police and paramedics found the teen engulfed in flames outside of her burning black 2005 Kia Rio. She was flown by helicopter to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis where she died on Sunday at 2:37 a.m.

At the time, police had precious few clues.

• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.

Chambers was last seen on grainy gas station footage that shows her walking towards a gas station, about 90 minutes before first responders discovered her on fire about one mile from the gas station. The footage shows Chambers waving before she walks over to speak with someone.

The surveillance camera also picks up a man wearing a striped shirt filling up a gas can before walking in the same direction as the teen. Soon after, Chambers returns to her car and drives off.

More than a year after her killing, prosecutors charged Tellis, then 27, with her murder after zeroing in on his phone records.

“We knew he was the last person she was with,” prosecutor John Champion alleged at the time. “We came to the realization that he was with her at 6 o’clock. Their phones were absolutely together in Batesville.”

“We found out he was in Louisiana in jail down there and one thing led to another, and he kept lying to us, and every time we’d bust his lies, he’d change his story, and he basically put himself with Jessica until 7:26,” Champion added. “We know she was on the scene until 7:31. So the chances of her being with somebody else for four minutes just doesn’t make sense.”

Champion would not speculate on a possible motive and alleged Tellis acted alone.

“This guy lived at the other end of the street from us,” Chambers’ stepmother, Debbie Chambers, previously told PEOPLE. “Jessica knew him roughly for 12 days. A mutual friend introduced them.”

In May 2016, Tellis plead guilty to unauthorized use of a credit card. Tellis allegedly used the credit card of Meing-Chen Hsiao, 34, a former Taiwanese exchange student who was found dead in August 2015 with multiple stab wounds, defensive wounds and slicing wounds in her upper back.

Tellis was charged with the murder of Hsiao in July 2016 after being extradited to Mississippi for the trial related to Jessica’s death.

He has pleaded not guilty to the charges in Jessica’s killing