As he stood in the hallway waiting for a deputy to unlock the courtroom for his bond reduction hearing, Quinton Tellis leaned nonchalantly against the wall, looking at his fingernails.
The fingernails attached to the hands that officials in Mississippi and Louisiana say have taken two lives.
Tellis was there in the Ouachita Parish Courthouse waiting for a bond reduction hearing. Judge Larry Jefferson had already set the bond at $300,000 in the case of the death of Meing Chen Hsiao, who police say was tortured to death — stabbed 30 times — for her debit card pin number. Once he was escorted into the courtroom, Tellis sat mostly still, eyes straight ahead and sometimes glazed as he seemed to stare at a file cart labeled, “7/28/2021.”
The defendant had made his name in Mississippi, where he was accused of killing 19-year-old Jessica Chambers in December of 2014. Like Hsiao’s, Chambers’ death was brutal and horrific. She was found burned alive on rural Herron Road in Courtland, kicking off a case that made national headlines regularly.
“I mean he’s as dangerous a criminal as I’ve ever dealt with, 26 years, I mean he’s as dangerous as there is. So it’s very important that either Louisiana get him convicted or we get him convicted,” Panola County District Attorney John Champion said in 2019 when Tellis was given bond.
On Thursday, the defense proposed a bond reduction from $300,000, which many already said was too low for the nature of the homicide, to $150,000. The prosecution, led by Assistant District Attorney Holly Jones, held that the bond needed to be raised.
Upon hearing the arguments and the testimony, Jefferson said he had already heard most of the evidence and didn’t see a reason to raise or lower the bond.
Defense attorney Randall Donald put Monroe Police Department Detective Duane Cookson on the stand, questioning him in order to “dispute the strength of the evidence.” Noting that the case had been called “largely circumstantial” even by Cookson, Donald proceeded to ask him about the events surrounding Hsiao’s death.
The homicide allegedly took place on July 29, and Hsiao’s body was found Aug. 8. As authorities worked the death scene, Tellis was celebrating his wedding to his then-wife, Chikita Jackson.
Hsiao was stabbed superficially nine times, Cookson said. Then there are some deeper wounds, and then there were those that would cause death.
Under questioning from Donald, Cookson said there’s no DNA to tie Tellis to the crime scene. On cross-examination, however, he said it was because the sheer amount of Hsiao’s blood and DNA in the advanced state of decomposition it was in at that point would have destroyed any foreign DNA that was mixed in. Not only was Tellis’ DNA not at the scene, nobody’s but Hsiao’s was.
There was discussion in court surrounding the possible time of death, as Hsiao had last used her cell phone at 5:22 p.m. when she called a friend to ask for a ride to church. At 8:16 p.m., a call was made to her bank from her phone, using her account number and pin number, and then immediately after, one was made with Tellis’ phone.
Tellis pleaded guilty in 2016 to unauthorized use of a debit card to withdraw at least $1,000. He was sentenced to 10 years before being extradited to Mississippi, where he was tried in 2017 and 2018 in the Chambers case.
Donald questioned the time of death, asking if there was any way to be more precise, but Cookson said since the body was found so long after the death, it wasn’t possible to be accurate to the minute. No murder weapon had been found, nor had any bloody clothes, Donald pointed out, which Cookson confirmed.
Other evidence included a receipt for $0.07 from a local gas station, paid with Hsiao’s card, found in Tellis’ bedroom. Donald asked if it was from after the time of her death, trying to plant the idea that Tellis could have gotten her card from someone else as he had stated initially, but Cookson countered with the fact that phone calls were made to Hsiao’s bank from both Tellis’ and Hsiao’s phones within minutes of when she is believed to have died, and cell phone towers put that call within 60 yards of the center of her apartment.
Withdrawals from a Vicksburg ATM also coincide with the phone records and statements, Cookson said.
An upstairs neighbor said between 8 and 10 p.m. the night Hsiao appears to have died, she heard a mattress and box springs fall off the bed frame downstairs, a sound she recognized because the same thing had happened to her not long ago. The apartments come furnished, so the models of the beds are the same.
Most damning in the case has been the testimony of Jackson’s cousin, Eric Hill, who told police that days after Hsiao was killed, Tellis bragged to him about torturing a woman for her debit card pin number.
Hill had initially told police that a man named Curtis Lemons had been the one who confessed those details to him. He looked at a lineup and identified Lemons, but he wouldn’t initial it. After that he was shown another lineup that included Tellis, and said he didn’t know anyone in it.
Court documents stated Hill told police that not all the wounds Hsiao sustained were meant to kill her, as well as other details only the killer would know.
Hill would later recant those statements in a written document, but it had two handwritings on it. One set of handwriting belonged to Hill. The other is consistent with Tellis’ writing.
At this point there is no date set for Tellis’ trial in Hsiao’s death, but there’s a hearing on a motion for a speedy trial in September. Officials hope there will be a trial date designated at that time.
Tellis stood trial in Mississippi in the Chambers case twice, both trials ending in hung juries. When he was indicted in Mississippi, he was sitting in the Ouachita Parish Jail, where he was being held in connection with Hsiao’s death, or at least in connection with using her debit card unlawfully.