Crime

Judge declares mistrial in burning death of Jessica Chambers after jury deadlocks

Defense attorneys Alton Peterson, left, and Darla Palmer, right, consult with their client, Quinton Tellis, 29, who is charged with burning 19-year-old Jessica Chambers to death almost three years ago, during closing arguments in his capital murder trial in a courtroom in Batesville, Mississippi, on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
Defense attorneys Alton Peterson, left, and Darla Palmer, right, consult with their client, Quinton Tellis, 29, who is charged with burning 19-year-old Jessica Chambers to death almost three years ago, during closing arguments in his capital murder trial in a courtroom in Batesville, Mississippi, on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017. AP

The jury charged with deciding the fate of Quinton Tellis, the man accused of setting 19-year-old Panola Country resident Jessica Chambers afire and burning her to death in 2014, is deadlocked.

Circuit Judge Gerald Chatham declared a mistrial this afternoon.

Tellis can be tried for the crime again but that decision is up to prosecutors.

The outcome was no surprise after the jurors came back twice this afternoon with a supposed verdict. However, both times it was clear the jurors had not agreed on the verdict and the judge had to send them back for further deliberations.

To reach a verdict either way, all 12 jurors needed to reach a unanimous decision.

That principle seemed confusing to the jury.

Jury deliberations began around 4 p.m. Sunday and continued until about 8:30 p.m. in the capital murder trial. The jury reconvened at 9 a.m. this morning to continue deliberations. The court was told the jury came up with the verdict around 1:30 p.m. after nearly 8 hours of deliberations.

However, when Chatham brought the jury back into court and asked them if they all agreed with the decision, one juror said he did not. The judge then went into chambers with the attorneys. A few minutes later, the judge came back to court and read the specific jury instruction that states all 12 members must be unanimous in the verdict. Then the jury was sent back to continue deliberations at 1:50 p.m.

After that, the jury came back to court saying they had reached a verdict. However, the decision wasn't unanimous. The verdict they reached was not guilty but after Chatham polled the jurors, it was clear the decision was split. The jury was sent back again to continue deliberations around 2:15 p.m. or so.

Tellis, 29, who pleaded not guilty to capital murder in the Dec. 6, 2014 burning death of Chambers, did not take the stand during the trial that started Oct. 9. He could face life in prison without parole if convicted.

The Clarion-Ledger will update this story.

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