Cornett Appears In Court
Thursday, November 29, 2001
by Associated Press
(Morristown-AP) -- One of six persons serving life in prison for the murders of three members of a Knoxville family in Greene County in 1997 was back in court Wednesday, asking that her sentence be set aside.
In the petition presented yesterday, Natasha Cornett contends her former lawyers were ineffective and her guilty plea wasn't "freely and knowingly" entered.
Cornett and her former attorney both took the stand on Wednesday. Cornett says she had ineffective counsel, and she didn't understand the consequences of pleading guilty to the murders.
Her former defense attorney Stacy Street said yestereday he would not have let her enter the plea if he thought she did not understand that. Street testified that Cornett knew her fate would be in the hands of a judge, and by pleading guilty, a possible death sentence would be off the table. If the case went to trial a jury could impose capital punishment. Cornett says she has a history of mental illness, and she was not stable when she signed the agreement. Cornett also claims she felt pressure to sign the deal, which was part of a package. All six killers had to plea guilty or everyone had to go to trial and face the death penalty. Cornett said it was a major factor because she didn't want anybody else's death to be weighing on her conscience. Cornett says her attorneys never told her her plea could end up in three life sentences, and says she was shocked at the judge's decision.
Cornett and five others pleaded guilty in 1998 to first-degree murder in the 1997 shooting deaths of Vidar and Delifina Lillelid and their six-year-old daughter.
Judge James Beckner is considering Cornett's petition and will issue his ruling next month.
Meanwhile, the five others have all filed similar petitions.