Natasha Cornett And The Lillelid Murders

Natasha Cornett was part of a group of teens who were responsible for the Lillelid murders.

According to court documents Natasha Cornett along with Edward Dean Mullins, 19; Joseph Lance Risner, 20; Crystal R. Sturgill, 18; Jason Blake Bryant, 14; and Karen R. Howell, 17, were on a road trip when they stopped at rest area in Tennessee.

The Lillelid family were on their way home from a Jehovah Witness convention. The father Vidar Lillelid would go over to the group to spread the word however he did not know the group planned on taking his vehicle and theirs was broken down.

The Lillelid family which consisted of Vidar Lillelid, his wife Defina and their two children: six year old Tabitha and two year old Peter were forced at gunpoint to their van which was then driven to a remote location.

Who exactly shot the Lillelid family is not 100 percent clear however fourteen year old Jason Bryant and other male members of the group were involved. Vidar and Defina would both die at the scene, six year old Tabitha died on the way to the hospital and two year old Peter would survive his injuries but would lose the sight in one of his eyes.

Natasha Cornett and her group were soon arrested and charged with the three murders. All of the group members who were eighteen years plus, including Natasha, would take a plea deal in order for the death penalty to be taken off the table. The younger members would ultimately receive the same sentences.

Natasha Cornett would be charged with attempted murder while in prison as she and Tennessee death row inmate Crista Pike attempted to kill another inmate

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Natasha Cornett is currently incarcerated at the Debra K Johnson Rehabilitation Center

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Natasha Cornett is serving life without parole

Natasha Cornett Case

The van rolled through the twilight, gravel crunching beneath its wheels and a few quiet sobs escaping from inside.

The sun had set, and dusk thickened to dark. The van stopped, and the doors opened.

One by one, the occupants climbed out — from behind the wheel, the father, a tall, thin man in his 30s; from the back, the mother, slightly younger and holding the hands of their daughter and son; two women in black; and a man and a boy, each holding a gun. A car pulled up the road behind them, circled around the van and came to a stop, its headlights still on.

One gunman turned to the other.

“What do you think we should do?” he asked. “Do you think we should let them go or do you think we should kill them?

Six people, all serving life sentences with no chance of parole, know what happened next that Sunday evening of April 6, 1997. Each tells a slightly different story. In each story, another fires the fatal shots.

John Huffine can recite the events from memory. The retired detective knows every inch of the spot along Payne Hollow Lane in rural Greene County, right down to the number of feet from the spot where the van parked to the main road, to the nearest house, to the ditch where deputies found four bodies lying in a bloody pile. Twenty years later, he can point out all the landmarks.

Here were the tire tracks. There was a shell casing. This house wasn’t here then. That tree was smaller. The stump — that’s gone.

He can tick off all the names on his fingers — Vidar and Delfina Lillelid, the Knoxville couple whose names still call to mind one of the most gruesome and notorious murder cases in modern East Tennessee history; their 6-year-old daughter, Tabitha, who offered chocolates to her killers on the ride to her death; their 2-year-old son, Peter, the only one of the family to survive.

He remembers the killers, too, whose names, mug shots and fascination with devil worship, blood-drinking and the occult topped front pages, TV newscasts and tabloid covers for months after the killing, and whose motives still drive online debates among true-crime aficionados. Natasha Cornett, then 18; Karen Howell, then 17; Joseph Lance Risner, then 20; Jason Blake Bryant, then 14; Joseph Dean Mullins, then 19; and Crystal Rena Sturgill, then 18, all deny to this day they knew what was about to happen on the side of that gravel road

The longtime investigator knows how the killers met their victims, can tell the story of how the family, devout Jehovah’s Witnesses headed home from a religious convention, stopped at the rest area on Interstate 81 South at just the right time to cross paths with six Kentucky youths on the run from police, parents and a community they hated. He knows the path they followed from there to the murder scene. He knows how many shots were fired, in what order and from what distance.

What he still can’t say for sure is exactly what happened after the van stopped.

“Everybody has their theory, and I have mine,” Huffine said. “I think it was a crime of opportunity. All the elements just came together. But this case is like an inkblot. Everybody who looks at it sees something different.

The six still have their defenders, from family members to strangers who don’t dispute their guilt but insist all shouldn’t die behind bars. Attorneys for Bryant and Howell have filed motions to reopen their exhausted appeals, citing recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that restrict the imposition of life sentences on juveniles. Howell’s motion could be heard April 21.

Berkeley Bell, who prosecuted the case as district attorney general, sees not an inkblot, but a clear-cut face-off between good and evil.

“It was the highlight of my career as a prosecutor,” said Bell, now retired after 32 years in office. “The whole thing was driven by evil — almost a supernatural-type evil. That sense of evil just permeated the whole thing from start to finish. It infused the defendants, and it empowered them. That’s what I believed then, and my opinion has not changed.

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1 thought on “Natasha Cornett And The Lillelid Murders”


    “Who exactly shot the Lillelid family is not 100 percent clear”

    Sure it is. Check the GSR (Gunshot Residue) report. It clearly shows Jason Bryant was the sole shooter. He had GSR all over him. Even DA Bell admitted that Jason was the only one he could prove was a shooter. Joe Risner, whom Jason claimed was a shooter, had none.

    “Each tells a slightly different story.”

    Which clearly points at an unrehearsed story, doesn’t it? If they all told the same story by rote, it would be clearly rehearsed and thus, untrue. All point to Jason as the sole shooter. All evidence supports this. Jason’s is the only story that kept changing depending on whom he was talking to. He admitted to murdering Vidar to Officer Deb Mackey but her testimony was disallowed because he wasn’t read his rights. He, of course, later changed his story.

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