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'It would not take away from the horrific facts': Judge dismisses request for 4 convicted in Lillelid Murders

In April 1997 a family heading home from a Jehovah's Witness workshop in Johnson City was kidnapped, forced to drive to a remote area, and gunned down.

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. — A Greene County judge dismissed a post-conviction request made by four people convicted in the 1997 Lilliled Murders to have the murder weapon analyzed.

Karen Howell, Dean Mullins, Crystal Sturgill and Joseph Risner filed a motion for the gun used in the killings to be fingerprinted more than a month ago. The matter came before the court on Aug. 30, and the court made a decision on Sept. 26 to deny the request after reviewing the petitions as well as the responses filed by the state.

The court concluded a new fingerprint analysis would "be of no substantive benefit to any of the juvenile defendants because they were ineligible for the death penalty," and that "it would not take away from the horrific facts of the case." 

Three people died in the Lillilid Murders. Vidar and Delfina Lillelid and their 6-year-old daughter Tabitha were fatally shot on April 6, 1997. The killers also shot 2-year-old Peter Lillelid twice. He was the lone survivor.

The family had pulled into a rest stop in Greene County, and a chance encounter with the six young people from Kentucky, ranging in age from 14 to 20, proved deadly. A Jehovah's Witness, Vidar saw the young people and decided to strike up a conversation about their religious beliefs.

The six kidnapped the family, forced them to drive their van to a remote gravel road to steal it, lined them up along a ditch and gunned them down. 

Prosecutors said the killers arranged the victims' bodies in the shape of a cross.

Credit: WBIR
The Lillelid Family

Two days after the shooting, law enforcement tracked down the killers in the stolen van at the Arizona-Mexico border crossing.

The murders ignited anger and fury across East Tennessee, with some people in Knoxville demanding the defendants face the death penalty.

The two others among the six included Natasha Cornet and Jason Bryant. 

The suspects insisted that Bryant, the youngest defendant who was also not old enough to get the death penalty, was the one who pulled the trigger.

Bryant claimed that Mullins and Risner were the shooters. However, authorities suspected more than one person played a part in the crimes.  

The six were offered a plea deal where the state would not seek the death penalty and were given two days to consider the offer. They ended up pleading guilty to the shooting and were sentenced to life in prison without the chance for parole.

The ones who filed the petition said they believed they could have possibly received a lighter sentence if it were proven they were not the shooters.

Peter Lillelid, who lost an eye in the shooting, went to live and recover with family members in Sweden. He has no memory of what the six did to him and his family.


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