(10/2/18) A judge in Mississippi declared a second mistrial on Monday in the case of a man accused in the burning death of Jessica Chambers after a jury once again could not reach a verdict.
Panola County Circuit Judge Gerald Chatham made his ruling in the trial of Quinton Tellis after jurors deliberated for about 10 hours during two days.
Tellis, now 29, is accused of burning Chambers on a rural backroad in Mississippi in December 2014.
Chambers, a former cheerleader at South Panola High School, had severe burns covering 93 percent of her body after being doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze. She was discovered by first responders emerging from the woods near her burning car wearing only her underwear. The 19-year-old died hours later at a Memphis hospital.
As in the first trial, jurors had to choose between evidence that prosecutors said linked the defendant to Chambers’ death and testimony by emergency workers that they heard a dying Chambers say someone named “Eric” attacked her.
Defense attorneys had insisted that prosecutors had the wrong man, pointing to the testimony of 10 firefighters and emergency medical personnel who could not clearly hear what Chambers said. A speech pathologist had testified that Chambers was so severely burned that she wouldn’t have been able to produce “articulate” sound.
There is a possibility for prosecutors to retry the case for the third time, but there’s no immediate indication whether or not they will elect to do that.
“I’m not going to say that here, today,” Panola County District Attorney John Champion told FOX13 Memphis. “We’ve just got to sit down and assess things.”
Defense Attorney Darla Palmer told reporters the mistrial felt like a victory for the defense.
“It feels like a ‘not guilty’ to me, honestly,” she said. “This will be the second time we’ve done this. Each time, though we can’t get all the jurors to agree on it, we certainly had those that feel that he’s not guilty of this charge.”
During the trial, prosecutors had countered claims by the defense with hours of videotaped interrogations in which Tellis repeatedly changed his story when confronted with new evidence. Tellis initially denied seeing Chambers late in the day, but later admitted he had been with her up until about an hour before her death.
Defense attorneys characterized those lapses as normal forgetfulness, but investigators characterized them as deception and lying.
“There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Quinton Tellis did this,” Champion said after trial.
Tellis is not walking free, however, as the 29-year-old is being sent back to Louisiana to face charges in another homicide case there, according to FOX13.
The 29-year-old has been indicted for murder in the stabbing death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a Taiwanese former graduate student, in the city of Monroe.
Tellis has already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of Hsiao’s debit card and is also serving a five-year sentence on an unrelated burglary conviction in Mississippi.