Quinton Tellis is on trial for murder in Mississippi in connection with the horrific burning death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers nearly three years ago.
The trial, which opened on Tuesday, will reportedly last up to two weeks. Dozens of witnesses are expected to testify about a crime that shook Chambers’ small community and made national news.
Chambers was found severely burned near her car — which had also been set on fire — on a back-road in Courtland, Mississippi, on the night of Dec. 6, 2014.
She was conscious when first responders arrived on the scene but died hours later in the hospital.
During opening remarks, prosecutors argued that Tellis, whom Chambers had known for only a few weeks, tried to suffocate her after the two had sex in her car that night.
Thinking he succeeded, Tellis then doused Chambers’ car with gasoline and set both it and her on fire, the prosecution alleged.
“When we start showing you the number of lies that he told and how he had to when he’s confronted with the physical evidence and the cell phone data, there was no way out for him,” DeSoto County, Mississippi, District Attorney John Champion said of Tellis, according to station WATN. “None whatsoever.”
In her own opening statements, however, Tellis’ defense attorney Darla Palmer said he could not have been the person responsible because he was at a store purchasing a pre-paid debit card at the time of the attack, according to the Associated Press and Fox News.
Palmer also stressed the apparent discrepancy of Jessica’s description of her killer, which she gave to authorities before dying.
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“She said, ‘Eric set me on fire,’ ” Palmer argued in court. “She didn’t say any other name, she didn’t mention any other person. She said ‘Eric did this to me.’ … She didn’t know the person’s last name. She knew Quinton. Quinton Tellis is his name.”
“He insisted this is not something he would do,” Palmer said.
Champion said Chambers’ body was so damaged from burns that she may not have been able to speak.
Tellis was indicted in her death in February 2016. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.