Jury seated over objections of defense attorneys in ‘House of Horrors’ death penalty trial

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Jury seated over objections of defense attorneys in 'House of Horrors' death penalty trial

The jury against the accused murderer Russell Tillis consists mainly of white women and those who support the death penalty.

JACKSONVILLE, Florida – A jury sat in the high-profile trial of the accused killer Russell Tillis on Tuesday after two days of intensive questioning.

Twelve jurors and three alternates were chosen from a pool of 60 to determine whether a man accused of killing a woman and burying her dismembered body in his Southside backyard deserved the death penalty.

Tillis has pleaded not guilty.

The jury is mainly composed of white women over 30 and people who rated their support for the death penalty as “5” or higher on a scale from 1 to 10.

The one juror, who rated herself “1 or 2” and was selected on Monday, came to court early Tuesday to tell the judge that she could not serve as a judge on the case because she thought the prospect was too found unsettling.

RELATED: Day 2 of jury selection in the Russel Tillis case begins with the juror writing a letter saying she cannot serve

The content of the study will be disruptive. Not only will the jury have to decide whether 59-year-old Tillis will live or die, but they must also hear and see harrowing evidence, including pictures of the skeletal remains of Tillis’ alleged victim, 30-year-old Joni Gunter, and the testimony of an alleged one Victim of Tillis, who says she escaped his home after being held captive and raped.

With many potential jurors firmly in support of the death penalty, defense attorney Allison Miller spent much of her time not only asking for their views, but also teaching them about their rights and responsibilities as a jury member.

She often remarked that a death sentence is never required – “not in this case, not in the worst case scenario you can imagine” – and that if the case moves beyond guilt into punishment, the sentence “requires 12 individual moral assessments. “

She also made a promise to each juror not to harass or be bullied by anyone during the deliberations.

RELATED: 10 jurors selected on the death penalty trial against a man charged with murder at ‘House of Horrors’

However, when attorneys began selecting jurors and going on strike late Tuesday, Miller denied Circuit Judge Mark Borello’s decision not to remove potential jurors she believed was problematic. One described himself as “8” on a scale of 1 to 10 for supporting the death penalty, noting, “An eye for an eye – I think I’m one of those guys.”

Another described the allegations as “a monstrous crime” likely to deserve the death penalty. When Borello refused to remove the jury “for an important reason,” Miller removed both potential jurors with their limited strikes.

Miller also expressed concern about the prosecution’s removal of five black jurors and called for “racially neutral” justifications. In each case, Borello found that District Attorney Alan Mizrahi had dismissed the jury on “real and not faked reasons”.

Miller made their discontent a part of the court record, however.

“There are appeals judges,” said Miller. “I don’t accept this jury. […] Not only do I not accept the panel, I also reject the panel. “

For his part, Borello said he found Miller’s approach to reviewing jurors problematic, saying he was trying “to find as many root cause problems as possible,” adding, “It creates danger when the defense does so.”

“I have been concerned for two days that the tone of the defense questions was not deliberately misleading. […] But the meaning of many questions from the defense is an attempt to get the jury to vote on a certain series of “what you will hear”, “Borello said. “[Their response] does not mean that they cannot hear the actual mitigating factors and come to a correct decision. “

The process begins on Wednesday at 9 a.m. with opening arguments broadcast live on firstcoastnews.com.

If the jury convicts Tillis of first degree murder, the trial will move to a penalty phase next week, during which the jury would make that decision of life or death.