The Lillelid murders refers to a criminal case in Greeneville, Tennessee, United States in 1997. A Norwegian-Honduran-American family of Jehovah's Witnesses were carjacked and then shot; three of the four were killed. Six young people were convicted and sentenced for the crime.
Norwegian Vidar Lillelid (age 34), his American wife Delfina (28), their daughter Tabitha (6) and son Peter (2) were shot on a deserted road in Tennessee on 6 April 1997. Vidar and Delfina were found dead, while Tabitha died after being transported to the hospital. Peter, who was found lying in a ditch, was the only survivor. He had been shot once in the torso and once through the eye. As a result of the shooting, he was left blind in one eye and permanently disabled.
Vidar Lillelid grew up in Bergen, Norway. He moved in 1985 to the US, where he married Delfina Zelaya in 1989. They met through their common involvement in Jehovah's Witnesses. She was born in New Jersey to parents from Honduras.
Details of the crime
Six young people—Natasha Wallen Cornett, 18; Edward Dean Mullins, 19; Joseph Lance Risner, 20; Crystal R. Sturgill, 18; Jason Blake Bryant, 14; and Karen R. Howell, 17—were arrested two days after the killings. They were taken into custody in Arizona after trying to cross the Mexican border in the van which they had stolen from the Lillelid family. All of the perpetrators had difficult childhoods and lived on the edge of the law.
Eye witnesses observed the youths in conversation with the Lillelid family at a rest area picnic spot outside Baileyton, Tennessee. From there, they forced the family to drive them away from the rest area and to a more remote location on Payne Hollow Lane. After the family had been shot and left for dead, the six abandoned their original vehicle and left in the Lillelid's van.
During the trial, Natasha Cornett said her first attorney coached her to say she was the "Daughter of Satan". District Attorney Berkeley Bell considered the Satanic angle a distraction and was relieved when Cornett's first attorney was replaced. References were made by witnesses and prosecutors at trial to rumors that the six were involved with occultism and Satanism, however no evidence was presented and this omission was cited in Mrs. Cornett's unsuccessful 2002 appeal of her conviction.
The trial was completed in March 1998. The six were convicted of felony murder as participants in felony kidnapping and carjacking that resulted in three murders (three life sentences) and an attempted murder (25 years). The six youths were sentenced to prison for life with no chance for parole. The judge applied the same aggravating circumstances for all. However, it was not exactly decided which of them had the main blame for the killings. Court testimony by the other defendants was that the youngest, Jason Bryant, had fired shots, but the judge opined another undetermined member of the group might also have done so.
Aftermath of the victim family
Soon after Peter Lillelid's medical condition stabilized at the end of April 1997, a custody battle began between his maternal grandmother Lydia Selaya of Miami, Florida, US and his father's sister Randi Heier of Sweden. Citing Randi's pledge to raise Peter in the faith and teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses as the deciding factor, local Judge Fred McDonald awarded her custody of Peter on July 1, 1997.
Peter has since been raised in Sweden by his Aunt Randi Heier and her family.
As of 2007 at the age of about twelve years, he still had trouble walking because of the injuries.
- A Blackened Rainbow by Jesse Fox Mayshark Metro Pulse Weekly Wire, April 20, 1998
- Knoxville News Online, April 1, 2007
- Knoxville News Online, April 1, 2007
- Women's Entertainment Television Network (WETV) Women Behind Bars Series, Original Airdate June 16, 2009
- Helen Smith, The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill, Callisto, 2000, ISBN 978-0615112237.
- Six, a documentary film about the Lilleid murders and Natasha Cornett by forensic psychologist Helen Smith.
- Cornett vs State of Tennessee, Original Filed August 20, 2002
- Lillelid Sentencing, 13 March 1998.
- Town of Greenville TN Website, Lillelid Murder Archive
- The Peter Lillelid: Ten Years Later , WBIR.dom, 2007
Related News Articles
- 20 Years Later: The Lillelid Murders, WBIR.com, 2017
- Lillelid Murderer Mullins' Sentence Review Is Heard, The Greeneville Sun, 2002
- Lillelid Murder Defendant Risner Seeks Reversal Of His Sentences, The Greeneville Sun, 2002
- Natasha Cornett Tells Why She Is Seeking A 'Fair Trial', The Greeneville Sun, 2001
- Peter Lillelid Is 'A Happy Little Boy' 3 Years After Murders Of His Family, The Greeneville Sun, 2000
- Lillelid murders still haunt East Tennessee, 20 years later, by Matt Lakin , USA Today, 2 Apr 2017
- Six, a documentary about the murders