Sturgill Conviction, Sentence Upheld In Lillelid Murder Case

Wednesday, February 5, 2003
by Bobby Rader News Director

A state appeals court on Tuesday upheld the conviction of one of six young Kentuckians convicted in the 1998 slaying of a Knoxville couple and their daughter on a Greene County roadway.

In a unanimous decision, a three-judge panel of the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Crystal Rena Sturgill's first-degree murder conviction and life sentence without the possibility of parole. She pleaded guilty along with the five others in Greene County Criminal Court in 1998 as part of a plea agreement. In return, the state agreed it would not seek the death penalty against the group.
She and Natasha Wallen Cornett, Karen R. Howell, Edward Dean Mullins, Joseph Lance Risner and Jason Blake Bryant - admitted to taking Vidar and Delfina Lillelid and their two children hostage at a rest stop on Interstate 81 before gunning them down on an isolated stretch of road.
The couple and their 6-year-old daughter, Tabitha, were killed, while their then-2-year-old son, Peter, was critically injured.

But Sturgill argued in her appeal that she was coerced into pleading guilty because one of the terms of the agreement was that all six members of the group accept it or none of them could.
Sturgill also argued she received ineffective assistance of counsel and that she was under the influence of medication the day she pleaded guilty.

All six of the Lillelid killers have appeals before various criminal and appellate courts. None has ever won an appeal.