Jury selected for man accused of attacking officers with knives

Russell Tillis also faces charges of kidnapping, killing, burying woman

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor , News4Jax.com Staff

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A man accused of murdering a woman and burying her dismembered body in his yard began a legal battle on another front Monday when the jury was selected in his aggravated assault case.

Russell Tillis, 54, has been in jail on charges of aggravated assault on law enforcement officers, resisting arrest and battery of an officer since May 2015, when police said two officers were attacked with knives while they were serving Tillis with arrest warrants for violating injunctions neighbors had obtained against him.

The first 35 potential jurors were selected from a pool of 130 people before noon Monday and after the prosecution and defense spent the day asking them questions, a jury was seated by the end of the day.

Those questions sometimes turned personal, like whether they are fans of crime television shows.

Tillis remained calm and attentive during the questioning.

Among the questions, jurors were asked if they had ever been a juror before and if they or a family member or friend had ever been arrested.

The attorneys also asked if the potential jurors were tech savvy, have bumper stickers and whether or not they were “CSI” fans. Both sides, including Tillis himself, took detailed notes on potential jurors.

Attorney Randy Reep, who is not affiliated with the case, said that jury selection can be one of the most critical moments of the entire case. 

“Keep in mind, on one hand the issue is finding people that are sympathetic to interaction with law enforcement that may go poorly for somebody,” Reep said. “(And for the prosecution), they are going to be looking for some law and order people that would be like, 'Why would there every be a conflict between a citizen and an officer?'”

Judge Mark Borello told the defense and prosecution during Thursday's final pretrial hearing that he expected the trial to last two days. Monday's proceedings began with Borello granting a request from the defense to prohibit the term "booby trap" from being used in the trial.

Tillis had been accused of leading the police officers that came to his home through a set of booby traps, but prosecutors will now have to describe those objects minus the term. Borello also said the warrant can only be referred to as a warrant. 

Tillis, who is also charged with murder in the death of Joni Lynn Gunter, appeared in a dark blazer, slacks and dress shoes during jury selection.

Gunter's dismembered remains were found buried on his property nine months after his arrest on the aggravated assault charges. No trial date has been set in the murder, but Borello appointed Tillis' attorney in the aggravated assault case as co-counsel on his other case.

Last month, police dug again at the property Tillis once owned where Gunter's remains were found. They have not said if they found anything new.

Police said a tip led them to initially dig at the property in February 2016. Crews used a radar device to search Tillis' yard instead of digging all of it up. They spent several days at the property, but only found one set of remains.

Despite that, police 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.

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