The Herald-News reports that Karen R. Howell, one of the six defendants in the 1997 Lillelid murder case, is awaiting news from the Tennessee Supreme Court whether she will be granted a new sentencing hearing. There is no indication from the court whether it will grant an appeal or not.
In 1997, Howell and five others faced multiple kidnapping and murder charges when they kidnapped Vidar Lillelid, his wife Delfina and 6-year-old daughter Tabitha from a rest stop, shot the parents and killed the girl in Greene County, Kentucky.
A 2-year-old boy, Peter, was also kidnapped but survived while suffering permanent disabilities from the crimes. He now lives in Sweden.
Howell pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping, among other crimes in February 1998. She was 17 at the time. She was sentenced to life in prison and has filed multiple unsuccessful appeal attempts over the years.
Currently, Howell’s attorneys are trying to get another sentencing hearing based on recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases of juvenile sentencing. A 2016 ruling in Montgomery v. Louisiana and 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama decided that life sentences without parole in murder cases should not apply to defendants who committed the crimes as juveniles.
The appeal request also questions whether Howell’s Eighth Amendment rights have been violated as a result of multiple life sentences creating “substantive prohibition” of “cruel and unusual punishment,” says the Herald-News.
The Lillelid family was kidnapped at the rest area by gunpoint, then driven to a remote location and shot multiple times. The parents were run over by the escape van as the defendants left the scene. They were arrested two days later at the Mexican border while driving the family’s van and trying to leave Arizona.
There is no time frame for the state’s Supreme Court to enter a decision on whether to grant an appeal.
*Photo from 1998; unknown source