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Arrest made in mysterious case of Mississippi teen burned to death

Posted at 12:17 PM, Feb 24, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 13:23:03-05

Quinton Tellis, 27, has been indicted on a capital murder charge for the December 2014 burning death of Jessica Chambers near Courtland, Mississippi, Panola County District Attorney John Champion said Wednesday.

The charge is capital murder because her death occurred during the commission of another crime, third-degree arson, the prosecutor said.

Tellis is presently being held in Ouachita Parish Correctional Facility in Monroe, Louisiana, almost a four-hour drive from Chambers’ hometown of Courtland, Mississippi.

The 27-year-old was arrested on three counts of unauthorized use of an access card connected to another homicide victim — whom The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson identified as a 34-year-old University of Louisiana-Monroe exchange student from Taiwan.

According to a probable cause affidavit in that case, Tellis used a bank debit card belonging to the missing woman on April 7, the day before the newspaper reports her body was found, and then again on August 18 and 19, withdrawing $500 both times.

Authorities procured “photo evidence” and interviewed Tellis on August 20, at which point, “he admitted to using the Chase Bank debit card on the three listed transactions and stated that he was the individual seen in the ATM photos,” the affidavit said.

Police executed a search warrant at his Monroe home and discovered a quarter-pound of marijuana in his bedroom packaged for sale.

Tellis “stated he sold marijuana for profit. Tellis was arrested and booked” on an additional charge of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, according to the affidavit.

Quinton Tellis

Quinton Tellis

Chambers was 19 when she died. Investigators until now have released few details about how the former high school cheerleader and her car ended up severely burned in a wooded area.

One of the few publicly disclosed developments came late last year when authorities told CNN affiliate WREG that the FBI had rounded up 17 suspected members of three different street gangs.

However, Panola County Sheriff Dennis Darby told the station none of those arrested were linked to Chambers’ death, but that the Chambers investigation illuminated the gang problems in his county.

On December 6, 2014, Chambers was seen at a gas station about two miles from her mother’s house. Her hair was in a bun and she was wearing camouflage pajama pants.

She put $14 worth of gas in the car and called her mother, saying she would be home right after she cleaned her car, her older sister, Amanda Prince, told CNN.

A store surveillance video appears to show Chambers pre-paying for gas. She walks to the store’s front door when something or someone catches her attention.

She waves and walks off camera briefly, comes back into the camera’s view and enters the store as three men chat by the doorway. She spends about a minute at the counter before going back outside and pumping gas.

The gas station owner who helped her said nothing seemed out of sorts.

“She seemed normal,” Ali Alsanai told WREG in 2014. “She didn’t seem like something was going wrong, you know? She just seemed normal. She just pumped some gas, we had a talk and she left.”

She was found later that Saturday night on a rural road near Courtland, Mississippi, her car on fire. She was not on fire when emergency responders arrived, but she had burns on 98% of her body.

Chambers approached one of firefighters and spoke, John Champion, district attorney for Mississippi’s 17th Circuit, said at the time.

Authorities didn’t disclose what Chambers said, but Champion told reporters, “It has certainly given us a lead we’re following up on.”

Chambers died the next day at a hospital.

The suspect in her killing appears to be a newlywed. A wedding registry found online showed that Quentin Tellis was scheduled to wed Chakita Tellis in Monroe on August 8, 2015.