JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Russell Tillis, the Jacksonville man convicted in the murder and dismemberment of 30-year-old Joni Gunter, will be sentenced June 1.
Tillis, 60, was found guilty in April of first-degree murder, kidnapping and dismemberment in Gunter’s death.
Since Tillis was found guilty of first-degree murder, that set him on track for a minimum sentence of life in prison without parole. And because the majority of the jurors (9-3) voted in favor of the death penalty for Tillis, but the vote was not unanimous, Tillis cannot be sentenced to death, according to Florida law.
Tillis’ life was spared due to Hurst v. Florida. That case went to the U. S. Supreme Court -- which ruled it was unconstitutional for the jury to only make a recommendation for or against death, saying, in part: “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.”
Gunter’s remains were found buried in Tillis’ yard in 2016. An audio recording captured Tillis confessing to the murder, but on the stand, he denied killing Gunter.
Gunter’s family plans to speak on June 1 when Tillis is sentenced.