Convicted killer Russell Tillis gets 2 life sentences plus 30 extra years

Tillis, 60, guilty of kidnapping & killing 30-year-old Joni Gunter

Convicted killer Russell Tillis learns his fate. Tuesday, the man who killed and dismembered Joni Gunter was sentenced to two life sentences plus 30 extra years.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge on Tuesday sentenced convicted killer Russell Tillis to two life sentences plus 30 extra years.

Tillis, 60, was found guilty in April of first-degree murder, kidnapping and dismemberment in the death of 30-year-old Joni Gunter. For the counts of murder and kidnapping, Tillis received back-to-back life sentences. For the count of abuse of a dead body, he got 30 extra years.

At Tuesday’s sentencing hearing, prosecutors got Tillis classified as a habitual offender, helping in their argument for life in prison. Judge Mark Borello said that proves he’s an ongoing threat to the community.

Prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Tillis to two consecutive life sentences plus 30 extra years, which is the sentence Borello handed down.

Tillis spoke during the hearing, complaining to the judge about his attorney. Tillis said they didn’t do a good enough job during his murder trial and refused to call witnesses who he wanted to take the stand.

“Mr. (Chuck) Fletcher refused to call any to corroborate my testimony. Mr. (Donald) Mairs did absolutely nothing during the trial,” said Tillis, who stretched the case out as he fired lawyers and tried to represent himself.

After court, Assistant State Attorney Alan Mizrahi told News4Jax that Gunter’s family now has justice.

“The criminal justice system should operate correctly, sometimes that takes time, so we all have to be patient. The outcome, sometimes justice is slow,” Mizrahi said. “One of the delays was the defendant’s manipulation of the system, which is sometimes the flaw of the criminal justice system.”

While Tillis appeared to be making his case for an appeal, saying he didn’t have good lawyers, Mizrahi said most murder convictions get appealed and the jury’s original verdict is almost always upheld.

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 could not be sentenced to death, according to Florida law. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that in Florida, a jury must have a unanimous ruling to get the death penalty.

Gunter’s dismembered remains were found buried in the yard of Tillis’ home on Jacksonville’s Southside in 2016. An audio recording captured Tillis confessing to the murder, but on the stand, he denied killing Gunter.

About the Author:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.