Louisiana judge limits testimony on death in theft case
MONROE, La. (AP) — A jury is unlikely to hear testimony about who actually killed a Taiwanese woman living in Louisiana at the trial of Quinton Tellis, the man charged with unauthorized use of her debit card.
Tellis, also indicted for capital murder in the 2014 burning death of northern Mississippi teenager Jessica Chambers, is being tried on the charges connected with the death of Meing-Chen Hsiao. A recent graduate of the University of Louisiana at Monroe, the Taiwanese woman was found stabbed to death last summer in her apartment in northern Louisiana.
Tellis isn’t charged with killing Hsiao though police have called him a suspect. Instead, the 27-year-old is charged with three counts of unauthorized use of an access card and one count of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute.
State District Judge Larry Jefferson ruled Monday that prosecutors can discuss Hsiao’s death in connection with Tellis’ alleged use of the debit card. But he said at a pretrial hearing Monday that prosecutors can’t call the death a murder in front of jurors. He also said they cannot use pre-trial testimony from a witness who said Tellis acknowledged stabbing a person.
Jefferson’s ruling came Monday after testimony connected to pretrial motions. Selection of a six-member jury began Monday in Monroe and will continue Tuesday.
Without a jury present, Eric Hill testified that Tellis told him about using the card while both were drinking. WHBQ-TV (http://bit.ly/1rDAjaE) reported that Hill — a cousin of Tellis’ wife — testified that when asked about how Tellis had obtained the card, Hill replied, “He told me about a robbery and stabbing.”
Hill testified Tellis answered “yes” when asked if he’d stabbed someone and answered “yes” when asked if he’d stabbed the person more than once.
Monroe Police Detective Duane Cookson said records show Tellis made a cellphone call from a location with GPS coordinates matching Hsiao’s apartment on July 29, the night investigators believe she was killed. He said that after investigators found Hsiao’s decomposed body, they connected Tellis by viewing surveillance footage associated with a July 28 Wal-Mart receipt. They saw Tellis with Hsiao, and he told investigators he had gone to the store to buy pain pills, using her prescription.
Cookson testified that Hsiao’s Chase bank card was used multiple times in August after her death and that surveillance cameras captured Tellis using the card. Cookson also said Tellis had acknowledged using it.
Though Jefferson ruled that prosecutors can’t call Hsiao’s death a murder, he said they can use a video recording of an interview with police in which Tellis discusses selling drugs to bolster the marijuana charge.
If convicted, Tellis could face a life sentence without parole as a habitual offender in Louisiana because of previous felony convictions in Mississippi. Tellis was twice convicted of burglary and once for fleeing from police in the county where he and Chambers lived. He was released from prison in October 2014, two months before Chambers’ killing.
Chambers was found on fire on a rural road in Courtland in December 2014, next to her car, which was also burning. She died hours later in a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital, having suffered burns over 98 percent of her body.
The mystery of who killed her brought national attention for more than a year, as police interviewed more than 150 people, including Tellis. Authorities have not discussed a motive or the relationship between Tellis and Chambers, except to say they knew one another and were introduced by friends.
Panola County District Attorney John Champion has said Tellis is unlikely to face trial in the Chambers case until late this year or early next year. Extradition papers sent from the office of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to the office of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards ask that Tellis be sent back to Mississippi for trial even if he is convicted and sentenced to prison in Louisiana.