Trial could shed light on woman’s gruesome burning death

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BATESVILLE, Miss. – A trial this week could shed some light on the mystery behind the gruesome death of a 19-year-old Mississippi woman who was set on fire and left to die beside her burning car.

Opening statements are scheduled Tuesday in the trial of 29-year-old Quinton Tellis in Batesville, Mississippi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Memphis, Tennessee.

Tellis has pleaded not guilty to murder in the death of Jessica Chambers. She was on fire when she was found next to her burning car along a back road in Courtland, Mississippi, on Dec. 6, 2014. Chambers was taken to a hospital in Memphis, where she died.

The trial jury was selected in Pike County in southwest Mississippi because of intense pre-trial publicity in Panola County. The jury is being transported north to Batesville, where it will be sequestered throughout the trial.

Relatives have described Chambers as friendly and outgoing. She had been a cheerleader and softball player at South Panola High School.

Chambers had burns on 98 percent of her body. State prosecutors have said Chambers said something to firefighters when she was found, but they have not revealed her words. District Attorney John Champion has said Chambers and Tellis knew each other.

Tellis faces life in prison without parole if convicted. Authorities have said about 20,000 telephone numbers were analyzed as part of the investigation. About 40 people are listed in court documents as potential witnesses in the trial, including representatives from two cellphone companies.

Tellis faces another 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.

An indictment alleges that Tellis probably stabbed Hsiao more than 30 times in her face and body with a knife to get her to reveal her debit card's PIN number before killing her July 29, 2015. He was extradited to Mississippi from Louisiana in June after pleading guilty to fraudulent use of Hsiao's card.

No trial date has been set in the Louisiana case.

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