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‘I ran for my life': Former prostitute testifies she was chained to a bed, brutalized before escaping

Prosecutors want the woman to testify about being held captive and raped, saying it reflects a pattern of behavior by accused murderer Russell Tillis.
Russell Tillis in jail during a court appearance via Zoom.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — “I didn’t walk anywhere, I ran,” a woman testified Thursday at a pretrial hearing for accused killer Russell Tillis. “I ran for my life.”

The former prostitute testified she had formed a friendship of sorts with Russell Tillis in her mid-to-late 20s when she was a homeless drug addict in late 2013/early 2014 – using his home to stash her belongings or shower. She said the two did drugs together but never had sex.

But after passing out high on heroin one night, she said she awoke with her leg chained to a bed, being beaten and raped by Tillis.

“At one point in time he drug me outside," she testified. "He told me he was going to keep me outside like a dog until I learned to do what he wanted me to to do.” 

She testified he later brought her back inside, with a chain still around her leg, but the lock not fully fastened. She said she waited for him to fall asleep and when she heard him snore, she fled. She did not report the incident to police or anyone else.

“I did keep it to myself,” she told Tillis’ attorney Charles Fletcher.

Tillis is charged with killing and dismembering a woman and burying her in the backyard of his Southside home. That woman, Joni Lynn Gunter, was also a prostitute, and police records show several other sex workers have come forward with similar allegations.

Although today’s witness is not connected to the murder case, prosecutors want the judge to allow her to testify in order to demonstrate Tillis’ alleged pattern of behavior. His attorneys argued the woman is unreliable as a former drug addict.

The judge has not yet ruled whether she will be allowed to testify. Tillis’ death penalty trial begins next month. He has pleaded not guilty.

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