JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Day one of testimony in the Russell Tillis murder trial began with opening statements from the prosecution and the defense.
Alan Mizrahi, a prosecutor for the state, began by saying, “The dismembered remains of the person that used to be Joni Gunter were found scattered in the backyard of this defendant’s backyard.”
He was reading the transcript of an alleged jailhouse confession captured on the wire by inmate Sammy Evans.
The details were chilling. Mizrahi read, “He annoyingly describes in Gunter’s case he didn’t have enough time to dispose of her in the swamp. He wanted to dispose of her because he was cooking meth, so he had to cut her up with a saw and bury her in his own backyard in four different holes.”
The transcript stated that Tillis and another man dismembered Gunter’s body, but Tillis’ lawyer Charles Fletcher says it was a hoax confession.
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“He knew about the murder of this young lady … a person pulled up to his house and her dead body was in the trunk. He knew about that ... He thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to make up a shocking story.’” Fletcher said.
Fletcher told the jury a man showed up at Tillis’ home with Gunter’s body in the trunk of a car, but Tillis made up the disturbing story to commit suicide, trying to guarantee a death penalty sentence.
Sammy Evans, the inmate who says he wore the wire, explained he told Tillis he was wearing it, and Tillis wrote notes on pieces of paper instructing Evans what to ask.
Evans drew a detailed map of Tillis’ backyard and led police straight to the dismembered skeletal remains.
Two of Tillis’ female neighbors described living next to Tillis.
“He threatened to kill me, he would jump the fence, jump over it, peek up, he’d watch me ... My neighbors checking to make sure I was home, taking showers after dark, had to get bolt locks on all my doors.” The neighbor said she called police several times after hearing women screaming from Tillis’ home.
Evidence included several photos of the inside of Tillis home. It was in disarray and had a soundproofed room, according to the state prosecutors. Investigators found tools, women’s clothing and information on other local women, including ID cards and printouts of women who were incarcerated.
It lead them to a woman who will not be named. She claimed Tillis chained her in his home and raped her. She escaped when Tillis was asleep. The woman said she never reported it to the police in fear they would not believe her since she was a known drug addict.
Tillis is expected to take the stand in his own defense.