FBI agent: Man in burning death admits sex, denies timing

Defendant Quinton Tellis, center, looks around during a court field trip to the crime scene in Courtland, Miss. on Thursday, Sept.27, 2018. Tellis is charged with burning 19-year-old Jessica Chambers to death almost three years ago on Dec. 6, 2014. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder. (Brad Vest/The Commercial Appeal via AP, Pool)

BATESVILLE, Miss. (AP) — An FBI agent testified Thursday that the man on trial for burning a Mississippi woman to death told him the two had sex, but not on the day she died.

Agent Dustin Blount testified in the capital murder retrial of Quinton Tellis, who is accused of killing Jessica Chambers near a small Mississippi town in 2014. A jury couldn’t reach a verdict in Tellis’ first trial last year.

Blount says Tellis told him he spent the morning of Chambers’ attack riding around with Chambers and a friend while the two women smoked marijuana. According to Blount, Tellis denied seeing her again, saying his only contact was a text message where Chambers asked for money. Tellis told the agent he deleted all of his text messages with Chambers after he heard of her death, although prosecutors have recovered them and are likely to introduce them into evidence later.

Blount said Tellis told him he and Chambers had intercourse in the passenger seat of her Kia Rio with the seat in a reclined position. The passenger seat in the burned car was found in that position.

The FBI agent also testified that Tellis showed him a gas can in a shed in front of his home. Prosecutors believe Tellis poured gas on Chambers to light her on fire after the two had sex, leading to her death the next days from burns.

A plastic surgeon on Thursday reopened the question of whether Chambers could talk. Dr. William Hickerson testified that first responders may have wanted to interpret her sounds as words, but that his opinion was she was unable to form words because of her wounds. Ten emergency workers have testified they heard Chambers say someone named Eric attacked her, and defense lawyers say that proves the prosecution has the wrong man on trial. Hickerson, though, said emergency workers were in shock too.

“They’re going to try their best to hear anything,” Hickerson said. “With my medical opinion, that would not be the case.”

Jurors Thursday also took a tour of sites involved in the crime in the small town of Courtland, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Memphis, Tennessee.

Panola County Circuit Court Judge Gerald Chatham also agreed that prosecutors could recreate the crime scene Thursday night, in part to give jurors an idea of how noisy and dark it was. Defense attorneys object to the recreation.

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