Suspect in Burning Death of Jessica Chambers Extradited to Mississippi
Chambers, a 19-year-old former cheerleader, was found engulfed in flames near her car on a rural road in 2014.
Tellis, 27, is being held in the DeSoto County Jail in Hernando, where he’ll remain until his legal proceedings in the state are completed. He has not yet entered a plea.
Chambers, a 19-year-old former cheerleader, was found engulfed in flames near her car on a rural road in Courtland, the hometown she shares with Tellis, on Dec. 6, 2014. She was flown to Regional Medical Center in Memphis with burns over 98 percent of her body, and died in the hospital. Investigators said she had been doused with an accelerant at the scene and left to die.
Tellis was transferred from Louisiana’s Angola Prison on June 23 after pleading guilty last month to one count of unauthorized use of a credit card. The card belonged to a slain Monroe, La., Taiwanese exchange student Meing-Chen Hsiao, who was found stabbed to death in her apartment in August 2015. (The cases of Hsiao and Chambers are considered unrelated.)
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He has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for that crime, with no possibility of parole, a sentence owing to the fact that he’s a “habitual offender,” says Ouachita Parish Assistant District Attorney Neal Johnson. Tellis was not charged in the student’s murder because, Johnson tells PEOPLE, “It was a pure circumstantial-evidence case – there was no DNA evidence putting him inside the student’s apartment.”
He adds: “My main goal is that he never hits the streets again.”
Tellis was living in Monroe when police arrested him last February in connection with Hsiao’s murder.
His arrest capped a meticulous investigation involving hundreds of law enforcement personnel and a Crimestoppers reward of $54,000. Chambers’s murder mystified and frightened her small town, with neighbors looking at each other with fear and suspicion. An investigation focusing on gang activity yielded many clues but no answers.
Desoto County District Attorney John Champion, who is prosecuting the case, was at the DeSoto jail when Tellis arrived. “Nothing’s changed with him, as far as I can tell,” he tells PEOPLE. Alton E. Peterson, Tellis’s attorney, did not return PEOPLE’s calls for comments as of press time.
Tellis’s hearing, originally scheduled for July 5, has been rescheduled for July 15, where Champion says he will enter a plea. At that time, Champion says, Tellis will enter a formal plea and the dates for his trial will be set. Champion anticipates that the trial will begin sometime in spring 2017.
“It’s going to take a long time for the defense lawyers to go through everything,” he says. “I want it to be done right, so they’ll get all the time they need to prepare.”
Champion says he’s not looking for any other suspects in the case. “I’m ready to try this man,” he tells PEOPLE.