Bill making killer kids eligible for parole brings prosecutor protests, recalling 1997 triple murder

A bill that would make juvenile murderers eligible for parole after 30 years even if sentenced to life in prison has won approval of a House committee while touching off outspoken opposition from those recalling a 1997 triple slaying in Greene County, reports the Greeneville Sun.

HB274, filed last year by Rep. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Sen. Becky Massey (R-Knoxville), cleared the House Criminal Justice Committee Feb. 28 after being amended to require 30 years in prison instead of 20, as proposed in the original version. It is on notice for a hearing this week in the House Finance Subcommittee. The bill’s fiscal note estimates that it could eventually save the state more than $4 million in incarceration expenses.

District Attorney General Dan Armstrong calls it “the Lillelid Injustice Bill” because it could apply to two juveniles convicted in the 1997 murders, though they received three consecutive life without parole sentences plus 25 years.

Armstrong is referring to Jason Blake Bryant and Karen Howell, who were 14 and 17 at the times of the Lillelid murders in April 1997.

…He spent several days in Nashville this week speaking with lawmakers in an attempt to keep the bill from progressing in the General Assembly.

…State Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, said Friday he is also opposed to passage of the bill as written.

…“Think if you’re a mother or a father. Think if you’re a member of a victim’s family,” (Assistant DA Ritchie) Collins said Thursday. “Just look at the Lillelid situation. People in Greene County haven’t forgotten about that.”

Bryant, now 34; and Howell, now 38, along with four other East Kentucky natives, are serving prison sentences of life without parole for the April 6, 1997, shooting deaths of Vidar Lillelid, his wife, Delfina, and their 6-year-old daughter, Tabitha, who died of injuries after being kidnapped by the six young people from a rest stop on southbound Interstate 81 in Greene County.

The victims were shot a short time later on remote Payne Hollow Lane near Baileyton. Son Peter Lillelid, 2 years old at the time of the crime, suffered permanent disabilities but survived. He now lives with relatives in Sweden.

The six defendants — Howell; Bryant; Natasha Wallen Cornett, who was 18; Crystal Sturgill, who was 18; Edward Dean Mullins, who was 19; and Joseph Risner, then 20 years old — were all returned to Greene County. In February 1998, each entered guilty pleas to three counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and theft before now-retired Criminal Court Judge James E. Beckner.

…In the Lillelid case, Armstrong said, “We’re not talking about juveniles, we’re talking about evil”… (The bill) seems to be tailor-made for the Lillelid (defendants),” Armstrong said.

…“I’m going to work with District Attorney Armstrong to see if there’s any way to amend that to see if it would not affect any of those convicted in the Lillelid murders,” (Hawk) said. “I have concerns that we are retroactively trying to address the situation.”

Hawk said he would suggest to fellow lawmakers that the bill only apply to juveniles convicted of murder in crimes going forward.

7 Responses to Bill making killer kids eligible for parole brings prosecutor protests, recalling 1997 triple murder

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    Well we could just legalize everything, close the prisons, and save MONEY. Stupid bill. Do the crime, Pay the time. VETO !

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    David Collins says:

    This bill would not legalize anything, James. As a practical matter, with the way the parole board has been loaded up with retired prosecutors and retired law-enforcement people, these kids chances of being paroled even after the service of 30 years is somewhere between slim and none. And you sure are not saving money with incarcerating people for long periods so time–just the opposite.

  • Avatar
    James White says:

    David, saving money should not come from releasing convicted murders early.

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    Douglas says:

    Funny, but they always mention the guilty plea but they neglect to mention how it was coerced/threatened out of them. Karen Howell was no murderer and should not spend another day behind bars. Bryant can stay where he is.

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    Douglas says:

    Go to “Justice for Karen Howell” on Facebook and read the “about” section. Should clear up some of the misinformation regarding this case. There is also a podcast interview recently posted on the wall. It’s worth a read IF anyone is interested in the truth sans tabloid “Satanic evil baby killers” nonsense.

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    Marshall Pierce says:

    The Lillelid Murders represent a tragedy in every sense of the word. Many families have been destroyed by this event. Six kids made the biggest mistakes in their lives, and are paying for it. Sadly, so are their families. Would society ever benefit by the eventual release of any of the murderes who express remorse, we should think about that. Can any of them actually be sorry? More questions than answers, but who am I to judge?

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    Randy Stewart says:

    So tired of hearing how karen Howell is not guilty of murder. She had gun powder on her clothes also had little girls locket on her. These people should die in prison.

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