Man accused of killing, burying woman turns on his attorney

Russell Tillis accused of murder, previous crimes

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man accused of killing, dismembering and burying a woman at his Southside home is upset on his third and most recent attorney, accusing him of secretly recording their jailhouse conversations.

Russell Tillis complained to a judge during a pre-trial hearing Thursday about his current attorney, Kevin Carlisle, and he also expressed concerns about having asked for two years to have a witness called on his separate, aggravated battery case.

"He secretly tape recorded conversation, which was a little concerning to me," Tillis said. "I am going to continue with Mister Carlisle, but I would like to say for the record ... that petition is an important issue with that witness being called."

Judge Mark Borello acknowledged Tillis' concerns and told the defendant he made a good decision by keeping his attorney. He will be back in court on Feb. 6.

Tillis, 55, is charged with second-degree murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, abuse of a dead body and tampering with evidence. The previous aggravated battery arrest came when he was charged with assaulting two police officers with a knife. The officers had come to his Southside home with warrants for threatening a neighbor and violating an injunction. Months after that arrest, Joni Lynn Gunter was found in the home's yard last February.

After the body was identified through DNA analysis, Tillis was charged with Gunter's death. Police said Gunter died of blunt-force trauma sometime between February 2014 and May 2015.

Tillis, who has been through multiple attorneys since his arrest, was approached by detectives in December, after Gunter's remains were identified, but he said he made it clear he wouldn't speak to them and was invoking his right to remain silent. Tillis' current attorney, Kevin Carlisle, said Tillis was taken to the Police Memorial Building for questioning against his will, and that's why he filed a motion for a protective order, asking that homicide detectives not be allowed to question Tillis again while he's in jail.

Carlisle said that because Tillis “may be suspected in future crimes,” detectives should not be permitted to contact him, and that Tillis would not be making statements to law enforcement going forward.

When they announced the murder charges in December, police also said they believe that Tillis could have abused or killed other young women, particularly drug abusers, prostitutes or women who weren't in regular contact with family, who wouldn't be missed.

The judge said he would rule on the protective order motion this week.

Defense attorney Gene Nichols, who isn't associated with the Tillis case, said a filing of this kind isn't that unusual.

"It's the lawyer's way to make sure that if their client is going to potentially face anything else, even if they've only been appointed for that case, they will be present for any other pending investigation," Nichols said. "It's absolutely a signal that there may be something else out there."

Tillis will be in court again Feb. 2. He remains in Duval County jail without bond.

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