HERNANDO, Miss. (AP) — An ex-convict who left Mississippi last year as authorities tried to determine who killed a young woman in their small town appeared in court Friday and pleaded not guilty to a capital murder charge.
Quinton Tellis, 27, grew up with the victim, Jessica Chambers, 19, who was found near death, with burns over 98 percent of her body, near her burning car on a rural road outside Courtland, a town about 70 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee.
Authorities said the former high school cheerleader had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire.
Investigators found was so much criminal activity and drug use in the small town that 17 people were arrested as a result of the murder probe, the Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported.
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District Attorney John Champion said that probe has been resolved with the grand jury’s indictment of Tellis, who has previous convictions for burglary and fleeing from law enforcement.
Champion told The Associated Press on Friday that court rules prevent him from discussing the evidence or explaining why they believe Tellis murdered the young woman, a crime that carries the death penalty in Mississippi.
Tellis wore an orange jumpsuit and shackles and showed no emotion as his attorney Darla Palmer entered the not-guilty plea. Families of the victim and the accused attended the 10-minute hearing, and left without speaking to reporters.
Tellis faces another capital murder indictment in Louisiana, where he’s accused in the torture death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a 34-year-old Taiwanese graduate student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
That indictment alleges that Tellis probably stabbed Hsiao more than 30 times on her face and body with a knife to get her to reveal her debit card’s PIN number before killing her on July 29, 2015.
The indictment notes that evidence is circumstantial because physical evidence was removed from the crime scene, but it “points to only one suspect, Quinton Tellis.”
That includes Wal-Mart security video showing them together the day before she was killed, and a neighbor’s testimony that she heard Hsiao arguing with a man she later identified as Tellis who gave her a “creepy feeling.”
Phone and bank records showed calls to Hsiao’s bank from Tellis’ phone the day she died, and GPS records showed Tellis probably was inside her apartment.
He was extradited to Mississippi from Louisiana last month after pleading guilty to fraudulent use of Hsiao’s card. No trial dates have been set in either case.
Fuller reported from New Orleans.