Be careful of the company you keep. If you hang around with people who are often up to no good, some of the bad consequences they bring upon themselves will probably spill over into your own life sooner or later.
It’s timeless advice that everyone would be wise to follow but unfortunately, it isn’t always taken to heart. One teenager would sadly learn the lesson in one of the most devastating ways imaginable.
Small Town Girl
Jessica was a 19-year-old who grew up in the small town of Courtland, a Mississippi town with a population just a hair over 500. In her young life, she was one of the more popular kids in school.
She was a great student, getting mostly A’s and B’s throughout high school but she didn’t spend all of her time with her nose in books. Jessica was also a popular, gregarious former cheerleader who made friends with just about every kind of person that lived in her tiny town.
But that friendliness wasn’t always a good thing, according to some that knew her. She was a “good kid” but some of the people she hung around with didn’t seem to be on the right track. One of her former boyfriends, Travis Sanford, had even ended up in prison on a burglary charge.
As you can imagine, gossip travels quickly in small towns. A lot of people thought that because Jessica had friends who may have been somewhat unsavory, she herself may have been doing some unsavory things. But according to her mother Lisa, her willingness to associate with people who may have had bad reputations came from her being accepting, regardless of what others may say.
“Nobody ever ever claimed she was a saint,” Lisa said. “She never treated anybody different. It didn’t matter what you’d done, because she wasn’t a judgmental person. Everybody deserved a fair chance even after they’d done their time, and she believed that.”
But Jessica wasn’t a fool either. She knew that because some of her friends and friends of friends were into things that weren’t exactly legal, it could mean trouble for her. In fact, she had expressed to her father Ben some concerns that some in her circle suspected she was “snitching” on them because of his job as a mechanic for the sheriff’s office.
But despite her concerns, Jessica Chambers continued spending time with some people who she might have been better off leaving alone. One of those people was a man named Quinton Tellis. He had grown up in Courtland just like her but was a full 10 years older than the recent high school graduate.
Though the two of them lived just under a mile away from each other, they weren’t formally introduced until around Thanksgiving of 2014. They apparently hit it off because over the next two weeks, they spent a good deal of time together.
They apparently got together a number of times and went out in town, just riding around. Their relationship even went beyond friendship at at least one point, when according to text messages between the two of them and Quinton himself, they’d had intercourse parked in a driveway just south of the home he shared with his mother.
Their relationship really wouldn’t have been all that remarkable except for one fact: roughly two weeks after Quinton and Jessica met, she would die a horrible death. Even more importantly, there was good reason to believe that Quinton was the last person to see her alive.
On December 6th at around 8 p.m., first responders were called by a passing motorist who spotted a woman in extreme distress by the side of a rural road. When first responders arrived, they found Jessica on fire, in her burning car, wearing only her underwear in 40 degree weather.
Though Jessica was still alive, she had been horrifically burned. After first responders put out the flames, they did what they could to stabilize her condition before rushing her to the hospital. Unfortunately, she had burns over 98 percent of her body and would later pass away in the hospital as a result.
Authorities immediately knew that Jessica had been the victim of an attack and not some sort of terrible, bizarre accident because both she and her car had been doused in gasoline before being set alight. And almost as quickly, investigators had honed in on Quinton as a person of interest.
When police spoke to those close to Jessica at the beginning of their investigation, Quinton told them that he had seen Jessica around noon that day when she stopped by his house to briefly hang out. If that were true, he would have last seen her eight hours before she was found by the side of the road.
Not Quite True
But investigators later uncovered evidence that proved that they’d met later as well. Surveillance tapes at a local gas station showed Jessica buying gas there just before 5:30 pm and her cell phone records showed that after she was done, she placed a phone call to Quinton.
“From 5:34 p.m., that evening, for the next long time, your phone and her phone are in the exact same location,” a detective said to Quinton during an interrogation. “When [he] was met head on with the fact that we had evidence, Quinton would change his story to match what we already knew,” Mississippi Bureau of Investigation agent Tim Douglas would later say.
“It was the same night, because I remember now,” Quinton said. “I wanna make sure I get it right. I did meet her in the parking lot, right there by the Taco Bell,” he added. “She got $10 and a quarter-sack of weed from me.”
He’s Our Guy
Quinton’s changing story, previous robbery convictions, and the fact that his cell phone was in the same location as hers that night, led investigators to believe that he was the one who had killed the teenager. He was charged with capital murder.
When the case went to trial, the prosecution argued that Quinton mistakenly believed that he’d suffocated Jessica to death while the two of them had sex and, fearing repercussions, he attempted to cover up his involvement in her death by setting her car and body on fire.
But there was one very strong piece of evidence that countered the prosecution’s argument. Jessica was still conscious when first responders found her and when they asked who had done this to her, she had named someone that wasn’t Quinton.
According to their testimony, she said that her attacker was someone named either “Eric” or “Derrick.” It wasn’t clear exactly who she was naming since her burns made it very difficult for her to speak clearly. Over 15 people named Eric or Derrick had been scrutinized and cleared by investigators before they settled on Quinton as their guy.
But that one piece of evidence was very hard to ignore for jurors. After reaching a hopeless deadlock in 2017 about Quinton Tellis’ guilt or innocence, the judge declared a mistrial. When Quinton was tried a second time for Jessica Chambers’ murder, the second trial ended with the same result.
While a third trial could potentially still be called to get a definite verdict, it would have to wait while Quinton was tried for a completely unrelated murder. In 2014, a Taiwanese exchange student named Ming-Chen Hsiao was stabbed to death in Louisiana. The woman was stabbed more than 30 times, many of the wounds apparently to torture her into giving up the PIN for her debit card.
Quinton plead guilty to unlawful use of Hsiao’s card and would serve 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole as part of a plea deal for the charge, but he said he had nothing to do with her death. The prosecuting attorney in her death admitted that the case against him was “almost an entirely circumstantial case,” adding that there was no DNA evidence connecting him to the crime.