Opening statements are expected Wednesday in the murder trial of Russell Tillis, 59, in the murder of Jodi Lynn Gunter, 30. Authorities in Duval County, Florida say he killed the victim, dismembered her body, and buried her in the backyard of his booby-trapped residence, which neighbors called a “house of horrors.” You can watch in the player above.
According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the murder case snowballed from lesser charges in separate matters. Officers arrested him March 18, 2015 on two misdemeanor warrants, but he armed himself with two knives and violently resisted arrest, authorities said.
He remained locked up through February 5, 2016, when a fellow inmate told detectives that Tillis confessed to killing a woman, dismembering her, and burying her. Investigators worked with the informant to record the defendant, who allegedly ran his mouth about the murder yet again. Officers served a search warrant at the defendant’s home, and found human remains. The autopsy determined the victim died of blunt force trauma. With the help of the University of Texas, investigators identified her as Gunter. The victim was described as being transient, and frequenting the south side of Jacksonville.
At the time, authorities voiced concern that Tillis victimized other women, including in potential other murders. Based on statements he allegedly made, they believe he sought vulnerable young women who had a history of drug abuse and prostitution. He allegedly targeted the “forgotten members” of society, people not likely to be reported missing. In Gunter’s case, she had never been reported missing to police, but family members were actively looking for her.
Prosecutors seek the death penalty. Tillis faces charges including first-degree murder, abuse of a dead human body, and kidnapping.
[Mugshot via Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office]
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