Cornett Conviction Upheld By Federal Judge
Saturday, June 19, 2004
by Bobby Rader News Director
A federal judge has upheld the state court conviction of one of the six young people sentenced to life in prison for the 1997 shooting deaths of Vidar and Delfina Lillelid in Greene County.
Natasha Cornett and five other young Kentuckians were convicted of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of the Lillelids and their daughter, Tabitha. Only the couples son, Peter, survived the shootings.
The Lillelids were murdered after being taken hostage at an I-81 rest stop while returning to their Knox County home from a Jehovah's Witnesses conference in Johnson City. The suspects were caught two days later.
After pleading guilty for her involvement in the crimes, Cornett was sentenced to three consecutive life terms without parole and 25 consecutive years in prison. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, Tennessee Supreme Court and Greene County Circuit Court have all denied her appeals. Cornett filed a fourth petition in U.S. District Court in Greeneville last year challenging the state court conviction.
According to the petition, Cornett claims her convictions were unconstitutionally obtained and thus void because her guilty pleas were not entered knowingly, voluntarily or intelligently.
Cornett also claims that her guilty plea convictions resulted from ineffective counsel during the trial.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hull dismissed Cornett's petition.
Cornett claimed her guilty pleas were obtained by coercing her into an "all-or-nothing" package deal which made her feel responsible for the lives of her co-defendants.
Hull wrote in his order that this argument is without merit, that the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has ruled that "package deals" are acceptable under state law.
Cornett also claimed that her attorneys were ineffective during the court proceedings, that her attorneys insisted she plead guilty even though she had a viable defense claim and coerced her with the threat that she would be sentenced to death if she did not plead guilty.
Edward Dean Mullins, another member of the group, is also awaiting a ruling on a similar petition filed in U.S. District Court last year.