Court Upholds Cornett's Life Sentence In Lillelid Slayings
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
by Bobby Rader News Director
The life sentence of one of six persons convicted for the Lillelid roadside murders was upheld Tuesday by a state appeals court. A three-judge panel of the Court of Criminal Appeals in Knoxville denied an appeal by Natasha W. Cornett, who contended her attorneys were ineffective and that she did not voluntarily or intelligently enter into a plea bargain. Cornett was convicted, along with five other young people from eastern Kentucky, of first-degree murder in the 1997 shooting deaths of Vidar and Delifina Lillelid and their daughter, Tabitha. They were each sentenced in 1998 to three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. The Lillelids, who were headed home to Knox County from a Jehovah's Witnesses conference in Johnson City, were taken hostage from an Interstate 81 rest area in Greene County, gunned down and left for dead. The couple's 2-year-old son, Peter, was wounded but survived. The Kentuckians were caught in the Lillelid van two days later in Arizona. The trial court so far has denied five of the defendants post-conviction relief. Cornett is the second of the six to appeal that decision. Last week, lawyers for Crystall R. Sturgill argued before the appeals court that their client's plea was flawed because she didn't understand the significance of pleading guilty at the time. A ruling has not yet been issued on that appeal. Cornett's attorneys argued a similar case. They said Cornett's acceptance of the "package deal" plea bargain was "designed to coerce less culpable individuals to feel responsible for the lives of others." But the court disagreed. "Whether the motivation was to escape her own death or assist the others in doing so, the circumstances suggest that the guilty pleas were knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently made," the court wrote.