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Trial delayed again for man who owns home where remains found

Russell Tillis accused of assaulting officers where remains later found

Russell Tillis appears in court at pretrial on charges of assaulting officers.
Russell Tillis appears in court at pretrial on charges of assaulting officers.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A man facing charges of assaulting two police officers at a Southside home where the remains of a woman were later found had his trial delayed again.

Russell Tillis, 54, has been in jail since May 2015, when police said two officers were attacked with knives while serving him with arrest warrants on unrelated charges of threatening a neighbor and violating an injunction.

About nine months after Tillis' arrest, police searched the home after receiving a tip and dug up human remains. Police are still working to identify the woman, who was found buried in the yard of the home on Bowden Circle East in February 2016. The medical examiner has ruled her death a homicide, but no one has been charged in her death.

Investigators said she was a white woman who would have been in her teens to age 30. They said she would have had shoulder-length brown hair when she died.

The house, just off Bowden Road east of I-95, has since been condemned as “unsafe and unfit for human habitation and subject to demolition.”

In the 18 months since Tillis' arrest, he has said he would represent himself, then asked for a public defender, but that attorney withdrew in May, citing irreconcilable differences, and a lawyer from the Office of Regional Conflict Council was appointed. 

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Tillis submitted a handwritten note to the judge, demanding a new lawyer. He cited 10 grounds, including that attorney Amanda Kuhn wouldn’t request police records that he wanted, wouldn’t contact witnesses, won’t show him surveillance video from witnesses, won’t obtain crime scene photos, and won’t address his claims the two arresting officers are lying about what happened that night.

In the letter, Tillis said Kuhn “became physically flirtatious, using her sexuality as a means to subdue defendant’s requests" and he claimed Kuhn even “stroked him in the courtroom,” as part of her effort to “use physical contact as a casual tool for her to control the defendant.”

During a hearing in September, a judge was told Kevin Carlisle, who was Lonna Barton's attorney in charges related to the death of her son, would take over the defense. The case was set for trial on Nov. 7, but it has been pushed back until Feb. 6.

Tillis' next court date is Dec. 13.

Neighbors told police Tillis' home was booby-trapped with razor wire and hidden pieces of wood with nails sticking up. The traps were cleared and police searched for a week but found only one set of remains on the property.

A faded Polaroid photo of a woman was released by the Sheriff's Office in connection with the Tillis investigation, but police would not say that the woman in the photo was the one whose remains were found in Tillis' yard. Neither the identity of the victim nor the identity of the woman in the photo are known, police said.

After nine felony convictions and going behind bars four times, Tillis' past charges include incidents of exposing himself, harassing neighbors and assaulting police.