For almost three years, those who love Jessica Lane Chambers have rallied behind their cause, "Justice for Jessica," and have awaited a day that is finally almost here.
On Dec. 6, 2014, Chambers was found on Herron Road in the Panola County town of Courtland a little after 8 p.m., walking away from her burning vehicle with burns over 98 percent of her body. In the small community of barely 500, almost all the first responders on the scene knew her and her family.
The 19-year-old was flown to a Memphis hospital, where she died just hours later. Coroner Gracie Gulledge said the cause of the young woman's death was thermal injury.
On Feb. 23, 2016, authorities had their suspect. They announced that Quinton Verdell Tellis had been indicted that month on capital murder charges by a special grand jury in Panola County.
And on Monday, a jury will be chosen in Pike County, which has a similar demographic to Panola, because of pre-trial publicity. Court officials said the jurors will be sent to Panola County on Monday night. There, in a trial expected to last two weeks, they will decide Tellis' fate. The trial could go through the weekend should the judge so decide.
At the time of Tellis' indictment, he was in the Ouachita Parish Jail in Monroe, Louisiana, where he was being held on charges connected to the slaying of another woman — Meing-Chen Hsiao, 34, of Taiwan, who was stabbed to death.
Jessica Chambers (1995-2014) | Gallery
Jessica Chambers (1995-2014) | Gallery
Tellis' indictment in Chambers' death was an unforeseen development for many who followed the case, as his name had not come up publicly during the investigation. He pleaded not guilty in a courtroom in Hernando in July 2016, just a short time after he was charged with Hsiao's death in Louisiana.
Chambers was with Tellis the night she died, by his own admission, officials said. The two allegedly had a relationship in the weeks leading up to her death. While Tellis has not admitted having a part in her death, District Attorney John Champion and other officials have said they are comfortable with the case they have against him.
Authorities worked leads and chased the killer for 14 months after Chambers' death, ultimately leading them to Tellis. It was an investigation that brought in local, state and federal agencies on personal, forensic and technological levels. In spite of a $54,000 reward, a marked lack of street chatter possibly attributable to Tellis' solitary personality made the case tougher to crack. That caused much of the investigation to hinge on data and forensics.
A database of more than 22,000 phone numbers connected to the case, starting with Chambers' phone and working its way out like the roots of a gigantic tree, were accessed through consent or subpoena.
Champion said in a previous interview that this case was also unique because everyone investigators talked to wanted to help. Before Tellis was indicted, nobody had refused to be interviewed, provide a DNA sample or take a polygraph.
Tellis' attorneys, Darla Palmer and Alton Peterson, have remained closed-mouthed ever since taking Tellis on as their client. Peterson has not returned multiple calls seeking comment, and calls to Palmer's office have gone to a voicemail that is full.
It's not clear what the defense's case will hinge upon, though there were several other possible suspects raised during the investigation.
Champion said in a previous interview that prior to Tellis' indictment, there were four occasions upon which authorities believed they had the killer in their sites, only to watch the lead evaporate. The probe led them all over the state and to Iowa, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisiana.
In addition, Chambers had a large network of friends and many of them were allegedly involved in drug activity and other crimes, making it a possibility that the defense could call her lifestyle and her acquaintances into question to establish reasonable doubt.
Court officials said as recently as last week that they were told the defense does not plan to take a plea deal.
Chambers' parents, Ben Chambers and Lisa Daugherty, stopped talking to the media after Tellis' indictment, citing the best interests of the case.
Despite their silence, visits to their social media pages show Jessica is never far from their minds. Three birthdays have passed — Jessica would be 22 now — and three Christmases, which were especially hard since Christmas was her favorite holiday.
Early in the case, Champion was designated by the investigating law enforcement agencies to be the mouthpiece for the investigation, but as the prosecution prepared in the weeks leading up to the trial he would not grant interview requests.