Trial delayed for Jacksonville man charged with killing & dismembering woman

Russell Tillis faces the death penalty in the murder of Joni Lynn Gunter

File photo of Russell Tillis

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge has pushed back the murder trial for a Jacksonville man charged with kidnapping and killing a 30-year-old woman and burying her dismembered remains in his yard.

Russell Tillis, 58, was set to stand trial this month for the murder of Joni Lynn Gunter, whose remains were found in 2016. In court Thursday, Circuit Judge Mark Borello agreed to delay the trial until May.

Tillis has pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder, kidnapping, human trafficking, abuse of a dead body, and evidence tampering in the case. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Earlier this month, Borello denied a defense motion to disqualify himself from the case. He also ruled that Tillis was not competent to represent himself in court proceedings and re-appointed two defense lawyers.

Tillis is due back in court on Jan. 13 for a defense motion to suppress a jailhouse confession. He claims the confession is bogus, calling it “fictitious” and saying that another inmate recorded it at his request.

Gunter’s remains were unearthed in 2016 while Tillis was in jail on unrelated charges. Police said she died of blunt-force trauma sometime between February 2014 and Tillis’ arrest in May 2015.