1997: Meutre d'une famille de TJ par 6 adolescents

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1997: Meutre d'une famille de TJ par 6 adolescents

Messagepar Conspirator » Dim Avr 01, 2007 11:13 am

Routine call, horrific crime

Responding officer, others remember Lillelid family slayings

By J.J. STAMBAUGH, stambaugh@knews.com
April 1, 2007

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - A decade has passed since Greene County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Frank Waddell was dispatched to Payne Hollow Road to investigate what he thought would be a routine disturbance call on a Sunday night.

Instead, he came across a pile of bodies by the side of the road and a toddler lying in a ditch.

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Although he didn't know it yet, Waddell had found the grisly fruits of a chance encounter at a nearby rest stop on Interstate 81 that left a little girl dying, her younger brother crippled, and their parents dead.

Every day since then, Waddell says, he's thought about pulling 2-year-old Peter Lillelid from the ditch. He also remembers Peter's sister, 6-year-old Tabitha, whom he found by the corpses of their parents, Vidar, 34, and Delfina, 28.

All had been shot. Both the adults were already dead; Tabitha would die a short time later in a hospital. Peter survived, although he never fully recovered physically - he was shot in the right eye and torso, and the injuries left him half-blind and disabled.

"The little girl had been shot point-blank in the head," Waddell said as he pointed out the spot by the rural road where the family had been left by six young people from Kentucky. "The little boy was laying in the ditch, and I picked him up. Thank God the ambulance was here in a hurry."

It took two days for authorities to track down the people who had stolen the Lillelid family's van. 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 taken into custody in Arizona after trying to cross the Mexican border in the stolen vehicle.

All six now are serving life sentences in the state prison system, and Peter Lillelid lives with relatives in his father's native Sweden. Lillelid's family declined a request to be interviewed, and none of the defendants - all now in their 20s or 30s - could be reached for comment.

For a brief time, the six killers were the center of a storm of publicity. Their faces filled the front pages of supermarket tabloids along with tales of Satanism, blood-drinking, and speculation about "Goth" culture.

Some tried to understand the case by delving into their personal histories, trying to come up with a reason that might explain why they took the lives of an innocent family who had the misfortune of running into them while returning home to Powell from a Jehovah's Witnesses conference in Johnson City.

People still ask why the tragedy occurred and wonder what - if anything - could have prevented it. Others feel that not all the defendants were equally responsible and question the justice of the plea bargain, which took the death penalty off the table in exchange for an "all-or-nothing" guilty plea that triggered life sentences.

Many take satisfaction in knowing the rest of the defendants' lives will be spent behind prison walls.

Examining why Waddell, for his part, is still haunted by the seemingly mundane nature of the call, which was dispatched about 8:20 p.m. on April 6, 1997. Someone from a nearby house had reported hearing gunshots and "people laughing and hollering, something like a party," he said.

As far as Waddell is concerned, life in prison is a just outcome for all those involved.

"I know one thing, they're getting what they deserve, every one of them, because anyone who would shoot a kid point-blank " Waddell paused to shake his head. "They're getting what they deserve."

The Greene County detective who led the investigation, John Huffine, seems satisfied with the case's disposition. He's also not overly interested in delving into the whys of what motivated the killers - it's enough for him to know he unearthed the facts that ultimately led to the case's conclusion.

"I've seen people killed for $5," he said. "There's never a good reason."

Huffine is cynical of the media's continued interest in the case, as he says he's investigated many homicides that were every bit as brutal but didn't garner much coverage. "We've had school schootings, patricides - just about every kind of case you see on the national news here," he said. "(These) occur on a daily basis somewhere in the United States."

One reason for the notoriety, he said, is the sensational nature of the young men and women, who seemed to represent an inversion of just about everything that mainstream culture deemed good. For instance, the killers embraced "the antithesis of the normal religion" and their victims were Jehovah's Witnesses, which led to a perception that the case was about larger issues.

"Good and evil, some people wanted to apply God and the Devil," Huffine said. "If that's the case, every case has an element of that."

Huffine said it was never entirely clear exactly who shot the Lillelids and "some might have been up the road" when the killings happened. The evidence pointed to two gunmen - Bryant and Risner - but was inconclusive as to whether anyone else took place in the actual shootings.

Still, he said, all were ultimately responsible for what took place. "When it was done, they got back in the van and went to Mexico with them," he said.

Huffine also reflected on how easy it would have been for the group to get away with the crime. If they'd not ditched the car they'd driven from Kentucky at the scene, for instance, police might not have been able to trace the killings back to them, he said.

"But getting away wasn't what was uppermost in their minds," Huffine said. "I think it was the notoriety."

Forensic psychologist Helen Smith of Knoxville spent a lot of time looking at the case because of her interest in learning "why kids kill." Her aim is to prevent troubled teens from endangering the lives of innocent victims like the Lillelids. She filmed a documentary called "Six" that focused on the group's lives back in Kentucky with a particular focus on Cornett, who was often portrayed as the group's ringleader.

Smith points out that many factors may have contributed to the tragedy, including a mental health system that largely ignored Cornett's psychological problems and what the youths perceived as a hypocritical Christian morality at play in their community.

Cornett, for instance, had been hospitalized for 11 days due to mental problems but was kicked out of the facility when her government health care benefits stopped, even though she'd been classified as "a danger to herself and others," Smith explained.

"She was already violent, but nobody gave a damn," Smith said.

Also, some of the youths harbored a strong grudge against many of their peers and adults at schools and churches. "They were told how they were supposed to be tolerant to everybody, but they were treated like dogs," Smith said.

None of these factors in any way excuses the killers or seems to completely explain their actions, Smith adds, but they might provide some guidance about how to prevent similar crimes from occurring in the future.

"It symbolizes how hard it is to be a young person in our society, and how many problems are swept under the rug," she said. "We have dangerous people in our society, but we don't do anything about them."

'The wrong people' If any one of the defendants came to represent the group in the public's eyes, it was Cornett. Shortly after her arrest, the young woman gave interviews in which she claimed that Satan would help her and urged other youths "to raise hell while they can" before the world ended.

Cornett later said she made the statements at the advice of her attorney, who was removed from the case.

Cornett and the others eventually launched unsuccessful appeals challenging various elements of the case, and Cornett now lives at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

Her mother, Madonna Wallen, said in a phone interview that Cornett has earned a high school diploma and is taking culinary arts classes. Wallen said she hopes her daughter will be freed someday because she doesn't believe she had a firsthand role in the killings.

"Every day I miss her more," Wallen said. "I have a picture of her in the kitchen, of her face. It's just like I've got her here, part of her anyway."

Wallen said she's never spoken with the family of Peter Lillelid but would like to do so. She said she recently watched a television report on the boy's life in Sweden and "it broke my heart."

"Me and Natasha wish him the best," she said. "(Natasha) has mentioned his name quite often, she asks if we've heard anything or how he is. I would like to let (Peter's family) know Natasha, and let them know she didn't shoot the gun. Sure, she was there, but she was with the wrong people."

Wallen said lots of children have problems similar to those her daughter had and could easily find themselves in trouble if they start running around with the wrong crowd.

"You never know - you could be just out goofing around, and the next you know somebody's robbing a bank and the next thing you know, you're an accessory," she said.

Cornett, now 28, is focused today on helping other young women in prison by teaching GED classes and attempting to be a mentor to other inmates, her mother said.

"She is accomplishing something," Wallen said. "If she can show that to somebody and it helps them, I think that's what she's working for - to help somebody else not get in the same predicament that she did."

J.J. Stambaugh may be reached at 865-342-6307.

http://www.knoxnews.com/kns/local_news/ ... 24,00.html

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