Mississippi burning suspect pleads guilty in Louisiana case

MONROE, La. (AP) — A man accused in the burning death of a north Mississippi teenager will head back there after pleading guilty in Louisiana on Thursday to a theft charge related to the death of another woman.

Quinton Tellis pleaded guilty in Monroe to one count of illegally using the debit card of a woman found stabbed to death in the northeast Louisiana city. He was charged with three counts related to debit card use, plus one count of marijuana possession with intent to distribute.

State District Judge Larry Jefferson sentenced him to 10 years in prison, an amount doubled under Louisiana’s habitual offender law because of Tellis’ prior felony convictions in Mississippi.

The 27-year-old Tellis of Monroe pleaded guilty as a trial was set to begin before a six-person jury selected Monday and Tuesday.

Tellis also agreed to waive an extradition hearing and will return to Mississippi where he will face capital murder charges in connection with the December 2014 death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers. She was found on fire on a rural road in Courtland in December 2014, next to her car, also burning. She died hours later in a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital — burned over 98 percent of her body.

Assistant Ouachita Parish District Attorney Neal Johnson told The News-Star (http://tnsne.ws/1X4vUt3) that the marijuana possession charge, which could have earned Tellis life in prison without parole, could be revived. Johnson also said Louisiana officials might charge him with second-degree murder in the death of Meing-Chen Hsiao.

A cousin of Tellis’ wife testified in a pretrial hearing Monday that Tellis told him of stabbing someone while stealing a debit card. Police have said they have a video recording of Tellis and Hsiao together in a Wal-Mart the day before they believe Hsiao died. Tellis told police he was buying pain pills for which Hsiao had a prescription. They also have pictures of Tellis using Hsiao’s debit card after her death.

“We think their homicide case is stronger and much more egregious as to what he did to the young lady over there,” Johnson said of the Chambers case. “They seem eager to go ahead with a strong case, and we stand waiting with the marijuana case. Should he slip through the cracks, that is going to be a life sentence as a habitual offender. We are also seriously contemplating going ahead and issuing a warrant for second degree murder (for Hsiao’s death).”

Tellis had been released from prison in October 2014, two months before Chambers was killed. Authorities haven’t discussed a motive or the relationship between Tellis and Chambers, except to say they knew one another and were introduced by friends.

The Mississippi prosecutor in Chambers’ case, Panola County District Attorney John Champion, was present in the Monroe courtroom Thursday.

“He had to take care of his case here,” Champion said, “but I know that everybody is ready for some resolution in the Chambers’ case and ready to get him back.”