August 17, 2018 10:26:24 AM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
A major criminal trial will now at least include a jury from Oktibbeha County after an order filed Thursday in Oktibbeha County Circuit Court.
Gerald W. Chatham, a circuit court judge in Panola County, issued an order to Circuit Clerk Tony Rook to draw a special venire of at least 300 jurors on Sept. 24, for the trial of Quinton Tellis.
Tellis, 30, is accused of capital murder in the Dec. 6, 2014 death of 19-year-old Jessica Chambers in Courtland.
According to the Associated Press, prosecutors in the case accuse Tellis of setting Chambers and her car on fire on a rural back road in the small Panola County town of about 500 people. Firefighters found Chambers walking near the car the night of Dec. 6, with third-degree burns covering most of her body. Chambers died at a hospital in Memphis.
Tellis has pleaded not guilty to capital murder. His case, which grabbed national headlines when it went to trial in October, ended in a hung jury and was declared a mistrial.
A re-trial was ordered in January.
A court administrator for Chatham told The Dispatch on Thursday that Tellis' trial is still scheduled to be held in Batesville, in Panola County and is currently scheduled to begin once a jury is selected.
Rook said Thursday if jurors have to be transported to Batesville for the trial he believes the costs of doing so would fall to Panola County, where the case originated.
"I would say it'd be up to officials in Panola County," Rook said.
Panola County Circuit Clerk Melissa Meeks-Phelps said she did not know when or where the trial would be held and refused to comment on further questions.
However, a pending matter before the State Supreme Court could alter the starting date. Dalma Palmer, Tellis' attorney, has requested that District 17 District Attorney John W. Champion be recused from prosecuting the case.
Palmer alleges that Champion met with Matthews Caudle, who she is also representing on an unrelated first-degree murder case. According to the Commercial Appeal of Memphis, Palmer further accuses Champion of pressuring Caudle to call Tellis "Eric," and offered to help him with his sentence.
Numerous first responders, according to the Commercial Appeal, said during the trial that Chambers said "Eric" burned her before she died, which the Tellis' attorneys used to his defense.
The matter is still pending before the court. Champion filed a response on Thursday, arguing that the circuit court's denial of Palmer's original motion to recusal of the District Attorney's office is not an appealable decision.
Neither Champion nor Palmer could be reached for comment by press time.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.