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A man being held on charges linked to the slaying of a university exchange student last year has been indicted in the murder of a young Mississippi woman who was set on fire, authorities announced Wednesday.
Quinton Verdell Tellis, 27, faces a capital murder charge in the death of Jessica Chambers, the 19-year-old who was found badly burned on the side of a rural road and later died at the hospital, said Panola County District Attorney John Champion.
Chambers' December 2014 death stunned her hometown of Courtland and launched an FBI-assisted investigation that frustrated officials when it failed to yield any significant clues.
Champion said that Tellis, who was also from Courtland, was friends with Chambers, but declined to lay out a motive for her killing. While accelerant was used, he added, it wasn't poured down her throat, as was previously reported.
"This has been the most unusual case I have ever dealt with," Champion said at a news conference. "Obviously the way she died was very brutal, very horrendous."
Warren Strain, a Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman, said investigators conducted 150 interviews and analyzed 20,000 phone numbers in an effort to find Chambers' killer.
But solving the case sooner was stymied by the relative scarcity of tips — even with a $54,000 reward.
"We were all amazed at the total lack of information coming from our street sources," said Champion, adding that investigators eventually realized that only one person knew about her death — someone who was able to keep quiet.
Tellis was arrested last August in Louisiana on charges of an unauthorized use of a credit card and drug possession, and remains in the Ouachita Correctional Center on a $200,000 bond, records show.
The arrest is related to the stabbing death that month of Taiwanese woman Meing-Chen Hsiao, 34, who was studying at the University of Louisiana Monroe.
Louisiana police said the credit card belonged to Hsiao, but are waiting for more evidence before they can charge Tellis in her death.
Tellis, who had been living in Monroe last year, previously served time in Panola County for a 2010 case of burglary and evading police, and a 2012 case of burglary, authorities said Wednesday.
Chambers' father, Ben Chambers, thanked law enforcement for their work in identifying a suspect.
"Been waiting for it for a long time," he told reporters. "The sheriff said, 'I'd never give up.' And here we are today."
He added that his daughter had never mentioned Tellis before her death.
Champion said Tellis has a May trial date related to the charges in Louisiana, and wouldn't expect him to be brought to Mississippi until some time after.
"We're certainly pleased that the work we've done over the last 14 months was recognized by the grand jury and they felt the work done was good," Champion said. But "I'm not going to sit here and jump up for joy, we're not there yet."
The last moments of Chambers' life were captured on surveillance footage from a convenience store gas station, where she was seen waving to someone who was out of the camera's view before returning to her car and driving off.
About 90 minutes later, firefighters found her car in flames on the side of a road with her body nearby. She had burns on 98 percent of her body.
Her family was perplexed as to why anyone would want to harm the popular former cheerleader and graduate of South Panola High School.
Her mother, Lisa Chambers, previously told NBC affiliate WMC that her daughter couldn't be at peace until her killer is caught.
Ben Chambers on Wednesday was certain that his daughter could finally rest: "She'll be at peace now," he said.