Quinton Tellis, 27, has been indicted on a capital murder charge in the December 2014 burning death of Jessica Chambers in Mississippi, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
The charge is capital murder because her death occurred during the commission of another crime, third-degree arson, according to Panola County District Attorney John Champion. He added that he was “very, very confident” that there would be no additional charges or suspects.
“We do feel like, at this point, that he acted alone in this case,” Champion said.
Champion said he is not sure whether he will pursue the death penalty. That decision will come “down the road,” after Champion consults with the Chambers family, he said.
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.
Tellis is presently being held in Ouachita Parish Correctional Facility in Monroe, Louisiana, almost a four-hour drive from Chambers’ hometown of Courtland, Mississippi.
Chambers’ father, Ben Chambers, said he’d been in close contact with police throughout the investigation, and he’d witnessed their long nights, skipped vacation and the rings under their eyes.
“I’ve seen it day in and day out. The hard work they’ve done never stopped,” he said. “They said someday it would come and it did. They would not give up, and I take my hat off to them.”
The teen’s mother, Lisa Chambers, did not speak at length but told reporters she was satisfied an arrest had been made and was proud of the work investigators had done.
Asked if he had a message for Tellis, Ben Chambers said, “Whatever the law allows, whatever Mr. Champion does to him, that’s what I hope happens to him.”
Already in custody
Tellis was arrested on three counts of unauthorized use of an access card connected to a Louisiana 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.
Transfer to Mississippi will take weeks
Panola County officials will file a governor’s warrant to have Tellis transferred to Mississippi, Champion said. That could take anywhere from four to six weeks.
“We’re in a relay race, and this is hurdle No. 1. We’re nowhere near the end,” Champion said.
Tellis is a gang member with a long rap sheet and has served time previously, the prosecutor said, but his gang affiliation did not appear to have anything to do with Chambers’ murder.
Mississippi Department of Corrections records indicate Tellis was convicted of fleeing police in 2010. He was then convicted of residential burglary in December 2011 and again in February 2012. He was incarcerated in June 2011, according to the records.
Tellis was released from a Mississippi correctional facility on October 2014 after serving time for burglary, Champion said. That was just two months before Chambers was killed.
Tellis moved from Mississippi to Louisiana in the summer of 2015, Champion said.
One of the few publicly disclosed developments in Chambers’ death 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 was 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 prepaying 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 the ordinary.
“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.”
Champion said Wednesday he did not believe Chambers’ visit to the gas station had anything to do with her death.
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 the firefighters and spoke, Champion 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.