Judge declares second mistrial in Quinton Tellis murder case

BATESVILLE, Miss. —The judge has declared a mistrial in the murder of Jessica Chambers.  After nearly 12 hours of deliberations the jury could not reach a verdict.

This is now the second mistrial. The defense attorney says the jury was split 50/50.

Despite the frustration over a second mistrial, the state said they wouldn't have done anything differently this time around. They introduced new witnesses and said they painted a clearer picture.

District Attorney John Champion said he's not sure if he'll try the case again, but if he does it will be in Panola County.

The mistrial doesn't mean Tellis gets to walk away a free man. Tellis faces another murder indictment in Louisiana in the Monroe stabbing death of Meing-Chen Hsiao, a former Taiwanese graduate student. He was already serving five years in prison in Mississippi on an unrelated burglary conviction and had already pleaded guilty to unauthorized use of Hsiao’s debit card in Louisiana.

The jury began deliberating his fate on Sunday following a second trial over charges that he set the 19-year-old on fire and left her to die on a rural Mississippi road.

The case, tried in Batesville before jurors from another county, concluded after six days of testimony. Jurors deliberated for nearly five hours before recessing Sunday evening with plans to resume their consideration of the case Monday morning.

Panola County Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale pointed to cellphone location data and surveillance video that supports prosecutors’ timeline. They say Tellis and Chambers had sex after returning to Courtland from eating at a fast food restaurant and that Chambers’ car was driven to a roadside. They say Tellis walked home, dropping Chambers’ keys along the way, catching a ride. Then they say he borrowed an SUV, got a gas can, and returned to set Chambers on fire.

“Quinton Tellis went down to that crime scene and lit this child on fire,” Hale said.

Prosecutors showed hours of interrogation video with Tellis, arguing multiple changes in his story showed he was lying.

“Quinton Tellis had obviously not been truthful with investigators,” Hale said. “He lied.”

Defense attorney Alton Peterson told jurors that’s a complicated scenario making Tellis out to be a “supercriminal.” He suggested that investigators, out of leads months after the crime, unfairly focused on Tellis. He said there are too many facts not in evidence and prosecutors are asking jurors to make too many “jumps” in a timeline that’s “utterly ridiculous.”

“They came back to Quinton Tellis and they started working backwards,” Peterson said. “They came up with a picture and it was their job to make the evidence fit into that picture.”

For example, they questioned a new witness who didn’t testify in the first trial — Sherry Flowers — who said she picked up an unidentified black male whom prosecutors contend was Tellis.

“Something seem a little suspicious to you, someone showing up now?” asked defense attorney Darla Palmer in closing arguments. “Seems made up to me.”

Defense attorneys also again pounded on testimony by emergency workers that Chambers told them at the scene that “Eric” had attacked her. Palmer urged jurors to discount testimony by two experts who said Chambers couldn’t have formed words properly.