Long first day in the trial of Russell Tillis

He was in jail serving time for these charges when the body of 31-year-old Joni Gunter was found on his Southside property. He is facing murder charges, but the trial for that will be at a later date.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla – It was a long first day in the trial of Russell Tillis.

Long enough for Judge Mark Borello to ask everyone to “pick up the pace” before dismissing the jury for the day around 5 p.m. Monday.

Still awaiting a trial for his murder and kidnapping charges, Tillis is now in the middle of a trial for aggravated assault on officers dating back to May 28th, 2015. He’s also facing several other charges in this case, including battery, criminal mischief and resisting arrest.

First Tillis trial could impact murder trial

Day one of the trial was not about “who done it," but rather, did an assault on officers actually happen? And did it happen the way those officers described?

The defense said it did not. They spent the day trying to point out discrepancies in what the original police report said and what they said in their testimony.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, two officers attempted to serve a warrant for Tillis’ arrest for violating a restraining order back in 2015, but they say Tillis ran and wouldn’t answer the door.

They tried again the next day but when one officer jumped the fence he said he landed on a five-inch nail. The nail went to through his boot and he had to go to a local hospital. It was one of the many hazards they say covered Tillis’ property: nails, tripwires and razors in the bushes.

When they came back for the third time they brought Sgt J.A. Weeks. They threw rocks toward his fence so they could get his attention and lure him outside to talk. That’s when they say Tillis came holding a knife in each hand and striking what looked like a “martial arts” stance.

The state asked Sgt. Weeks to demonstrate what happened when he came face to face with Tillis. He said Tillis let out a “loud battle cry” before running away again.

The defense questioned that account. They also questioned the officers’ “lack of effort” to obtain or document surveillance video of the incident. 

Throughout the day, the state called Investigator with the State Attorney’s Office John Sheppard, JSO Sgt. J.A. Weeks and JSO Sgt. Jason Bailey to the stand. The defense called Dale Beam to the stand, who was a friend of Tillis’ and briefly lived on Tillis’ property in his RV.

Tillis remained emotionless for most of the trial, with exception to cracking a smile and laugh a few times during the officers’ testimony.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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