Tennessee judge won't reopen sentencing in 1997 triple slaying - WPSD Local 6: Your news, weather, and sports authority

Tennessee judge won't reopen sentencing in 1997 triple slaying

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A judge denied a motion Friday to reopen sentencing for a defendant in a 20-year-old triple slaying in East Tennessee.

Media report Greene County Criminal Court Judge Alex Pearson rejected the motion from attorneys for Karen Howell, who was 17 when she pleaded guilty in 1998 to the roadside slayings of a mother, father and daughter in East Tennessee. She was sentenced to life without parole.

Howell's attorneys cited recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with juvenile sentences in a motion asking for her sentence to be reconsidered.

Pearson said he reviewed transcripts from the original hearing and found that the judge considered all relevant factors before imposing the sentence.

Howell and five other Kentucky youths pleaded guilty to kidnapping the Lillelid family from a Tennessee rest area in 1997 and killing the mother, father and daughter and maiming their son, to steal their van.

Howell's attorneys said they plan to appeal the ruling.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports Howell has written about how she wants a chance at freedom.

"I've grown up so much in prison," she wrote in a recent letter. "I never thought or ever intended or wanted that someone would die. That's never been who I was, then or now. In my own heart I have never stopped hoping or believing that maybe one day I'll have the chance of walking out of prison."

The shooting happened as the family — Vidar Lillelid, 34; Delfina Lillelid, 28; Tabitha Lillelid, 6; and Peter Lillelid, 2 — was headed home from a Jehovah's Witness retreat in Johnson City.

Howell, Natasha Wallen Cornett, 18; Joseph Lance Risner, 20; Jason Blake Bryant, 14; Joseph Dean Mullins, 19; and Crystal Rena Sturgill, 18, crossed paths with the family at a rest area, where Vidar Lillelid apparently tried to witness to the group about his faith.

They forced the family into the van, and then stopped along a nearby road and shot them. Only Peter survived.

Authorities caught up to the six two days later at a border crossing in Arizona.

Authorities suggested at the time that the killings could have been part of a satanic ritual, but all six have since denied that. They pleaded guilty in exchange for sentences of life without parole.

Bryant, who also was a juvenile when sentence, has filed a motion asking that his sentencing be reopened. Arguments in that case have not been scheduled.

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