April 10, 1997 in Nation/World

Robbery Motive For Murders, Police Say If Occult-Tied Daughter Did It, Mom Says, ‘Demons Took Over’

Associated Press
 

Madonna Wallen knows her daughter and friends dabbled in the occult, played with Tarot cards and weren’t always in control.

But she doesn’t believe the murder charges against them, saying “in their right mind” they could not have shot a Tennessee family returning from a Jehovah’s Witness conference.

“They’re not natural-born killers,” she said. “Natasha was into the demon part of it, I guess. I feel like if they did do this, then I guess I feel like the demons took over.”

Police said it was robbery and carjacking - not satanism - that motivated the killings.

Vidar Lillelid, 34, and his wife, Delphina, 28, were found dead in a ditch Sunday night along a gravel road three miles from a rest stop near Baileyton in eastern Tennessee.

Their daughter, Tabitha, 6, was found alive in her father’s lap and died Monday at a hospital. Her brother, Peter, 2, was cradled in his mother’s lap. He was in critical condition Wednesday.

Six people, all from the Paintsville, Ky., area, were arrested Tuesday by U.S. Customs agents in Arizona after being turned away from Mexico because of improper paperwork. Officials confirmed their van was the one stolen from the Lillelids.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that the suspects allegedly stole guns, ammunition and $500 from the home of a police officer in Paintsville, then traveled south.

Charged with three counts of murder were Natasha Wallen Cornett, 18, Edward Dean Mullins, 19, Crystal Renea Sturgill, 18, Joseph Lance Risner, 20, Jason Blake Bryant, 14, and Karen Renea Howell, 17.

They were being held today in Bisbee, Ariz., with the adults in the Cochise County Jail and the two minors in a juvenile detention center.

The suspects made their first court appearance by video before Justice of the Peace Joe Borane in Douglas.

Borane ordered all six held without bond and said he would appoint public defenders.

For the Lillelids, it was a tragic end for a family that wanted to escape violence. The Lillelids met in Miami, married in 1989 and moved to a town outside Knoxville, where he worked as a hotel bellman.

“They decided things were a little on the rough side in Miami,” said John McLaughlin, an elder at the congregation the Lillelids attended.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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