Tellis trial set for Oct. 10 with jury from Pike County
By John Howell
The long anticipated trial for the man accused in the 2014 murder of Jessica Chambers is scheduled to begin Tuesday, October 10 in Batesville in front of jurors chosen the day before in Pike County, according to District Attorney John Champion.
Quinton Verdell Tellis of Courtland was indicted for capital murder in February, 2016 following a 14-month investigation by local, state and federal authorities. Tellis was charged with setting fire to Chambers in her car near Courtland on December 6, 2014.
Tellis, accompanied by his attorney, Darla Palmer of Jackson, met with Circuit Judge Gerald Chatham and Champion for a status conference in the Batesville courthouse Tuesday. Champion said that 12 Pike County residents plus a couple of alternates will be chosen as jurors during voir dire in McComb Monday, October 9. Jurors will be brought to Batesville by bus that evening for the trial.
The jury will be sequestered for the duration of the trial which is expected to last up to 14 days, according to the district attorney.
Panola County Circuit Clerk Melissa Meek-Phelps, who will be responsible for much of juror logistics, said that she has been scrambling to secure enough Batesville motel rooms for the jurors. The trial date overlaps an Ole Miss home game weekend with Vanderbilt which normally fills Batesville hotels and motels to capacity. The circuit clerk said that she expects the trial to cost Panola County at least $18,000 in lodging expense alone.
Courtland volunteer firefighters were shocked to find Chambers burned near her vehicle on Herron Road that Saturday night in 2014 when they thought they were responding to a car fire. Chambers died hours later in a Memphis hospital.
The search for Chambers’ killer turned into the most extensive investigation in Panola County’s history, eventually developing into a task force that included the FBI, MBI, ATF, Miss. Crime Lab, U.S. Attorney, State Coroner’s office, U.S. Marshal’s Service, the Panola County Sheriff’s Dept., Batesville Police Dept. along with Champion’s 17th Judicial District Attorney office.
Investigators painstakingly pieced together the forensic evidence and data, according to Champion during a press conference last year when Tellis’ indictment was announced. The evidence led back to Tellis, who had first been interviewed by investigators in December, 2014.
“This has been the most unusual case that I’ve ever dealt with,” Champion told reporters at that Feb., 2016 press conference.
Chambers’ murder and the long investigation brought international attention to the crime, interest that is expected to be rekindled by Tellis’ October trial.