“The whole time I prayed to God I would survive this.” Women testify convicted killer attacked them

Jacksonville, FL. — Disturbing testimony in the penalty phase of the Russell Tillis trial Wednesday.

Two women took the stand and told a jury about their violent encounters with Tillis dating back to the 1980′s.

The State called these witnesses to try and sway a jury to recommend a death sentence for Tillis. Tillis was convicted in the murder, kidnapping, and dismemberment of Joni Gunter.

The first woman who testified says she was raped by Tillis twice in 2006 when she was 14. The woman says she skipped the bus ride home to hang out with friends. The ended up at a Walmart off 103rd, when her friends left, she had no way of getting home and did not want to call her parents in fear of getting into trouble. The woman says at that moment Tillis pulled up, when she got into his car to thank him for offering to take her home, he became silent.

When Tillis put his truck in park the woman said, “I feel a big slap on my face.” Tillis had backhanded her. The teen says Tillis made her perform oral sex, she made up a story that she was a prostitute so he would not hurt her. The woman said Tillis raped her twice.

“”Thinking how am I going to get out of this praying in a sense, he told me to take off all my clothes or he will kill me” she said.

The woman told the jury Tillis then gave her $40 and said “We should do this again sometime.”

The State said this was not the first time a woman said Tillis was violent with them, 17 years before in 1989 a woman driving on I-75 testified her car broke down. She waited for a police officer to drive by for help, it was Tillis who eventually drove by. The woman said he looked under the hood of the car and said he could not fix it and offered to drive her to a phone. Instead the woman said Tillis drove her to a nearby construction site where he worked and strangled her.

It was then that two men who were making sure no one was on the site ran into them

“”There is nothing else there but these headlights, and he jumped up and I grabbed the door handle pulled the lock up and rolled out.” She said she then opened the door and rolled out before Tillis sped off.

The defense in openings said “Russell Tillis is a damaged, broken individual but not beyond redemption.” The defense explained through expert witnesses that Tillis had a broken childhood, raped by his father and molested by family members. He dropped out of middle school in 8th grade and began experimenting with drugs at 13 years old. Tillis ex wife and son are expected to testify sometime in the penalty phase.

The jury will then have to make a sentencing recommendation.