Trial begins to shed light on woman’s gruesome burning death

BATESVILLE, Miss. (AP) — The night a 19-year-old Mississippi woman was burned to death, she and her killer had sex in her car and he thought he had suffocated her before he torched her vehicle with her inside, a prosecutor said Tuesday in an opening statement, presenting his theory of what led to the gruesome slaying.

But a defense attorney said Jessica Chambers told firefighters who found her near her burning car that a man named Eric set her on fire — not the person charged with her murder, Quinton Tellis.

Tellis’ trial began in Batesville, Mississippi, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Memphis, Tennessee. Tellis, 29, could face life in prison without parole if convicted of capital murder.

The horrific circumstances surrounding the former high school cheerleader’s death garnered national attention. Security is tight — the jury is being sequestered and spectators are being screened through metal detectors before entering the courtroom.

Prosecutor John Champion told jurors that they will see graphic photos of a burned Chambers and they will hear from about 35 witnesses. Chambers had burns on about 93 percent of her body when she was found along a rural back road on Dec. 6, 2014, the prosecutor said. She died hours later at a Memphis hospital.

He said Tellis repeatedly lied to investigators about spending time with her in the hours before she was found. He also said that Tellis had repeatedly asked Chambers for sex, and she had told him no.

Champion said cellphone records show that Chambers and Tellis — who had met about two weeks before her death and had become friends — were together twice on the day she was burned.

Chambers and Tellis rode around in her car for a while that morning before Chambers dropped off Tellis at his house and she went home to take a nap, the prosecutor said. Chambers then picked up Tellis about 5:30 p.m. and they went to a fast food restaurant, Champion said.

Citing statements Tellis made to investigators, Champion said Tellis…

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