Natasha Wallen Cornett (born January 26, 1979) is an American criminal currently serving a sentence of life without parole at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville for her involvement in the Lillelid murders. Professionals involved with troubled teens see the life of Natasha Cornett as a warning of the failures of the school, mental health and criminal justice systems in preventive treatment.
Cornett was born into poverty in rural Pike County, located in Eastern Kentucky. Cornett's mother Madonna Wallen was not married to her biological father, a local policeman named Roger Burgess with whom Madonna was having an affair. When Natasha was young, Madonna left her husband, Ed Wallen, and raised Natasha alone as a single mother in a trailer located in the outskirts of Pikeville, Kentucky. By junior high school Cornett was alienated from her fellow pupils due to her unconventional behavior. She suffered from anorexia and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which went largely untreated due to lack of health insurance. Sometime during her freshman year of high school Cornett dropped out.
Married to a long time friend named Stephen Cornett on her 17th birthday, Natasha told Women's Entertainment Network interviewers in a 2009 documentary that when Stephen ended the marriage after only a matter of months she was "devastated".
Cornett had embraced the Goth subculture manner of black clothing and dark "doom-ridden music". Also at this time Cornett was abusing drugs and alcohol and practicing self-mutilation, activities she had been involved with since her early teen years. Young people similarly inclined were drawn to Cornett and she became the informal leader the group.
On April 6, 1997, Cornett, looking to escape what was to her the boredom, poverty, and general unhappiness of life in Pikeville, took to the road with five other disaffected youths: Edward Dean Mullins, 19; Joseph Lance Risner, 20; Crystal R. Sturgill, 18; Jason Blake Bryant, 14; and Karen R. Howell, 17. The gang was hoping to start a new life in New Orleans. By chance, they met the Lillelid family at an interstate highway rest area in Greeneville, Tennessee. Norway-born Vidar Lillelid (age 34), his American wife Delfina (28), their daughter Tabitha (6) and son Peter (2) were Jehovah's Witnesses hoping to convert the troubled youths. Instead, the gang kidnapped the Lillelid family, then shot each family member on a deserted Baileyton, Tennessee, road. Vidar and Delfina were found dead, while Tabitha died after being transported to the hospital. Peter, who was found lying in a ditch, was the only survivor. He had been shot once in the torso and once through the eye. As a result of the shooting, he was left blind in one eye and permanently disabled. Two days after the shootings, Cornett and the five others were taken into custody by US Customs and Immigration officials in Arizona while trying to cross into Mexico in the Lillelid family's stolen van.
At the trial held in Greeneville, Tennessee, Cornett, then 19, was convicted in March 13, 1998, with the five other youths for the murders. Her conviction was the result of a plea bargain where Cornett pled guilty to all charges against her to avoid a possible death sentence. Although she took the plea bargain, court testimony strongly established she did not participate in the actual shooting of the four victims. During her own testimony Cornett claimed she tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the deaths. They all admitted to first degree murder and each received three life sentences.
Life in prison
Since her arrival at the prison in Nashville, Cornett has earned her GED and a certification in cosmetology. In a 2007 article published in The Knoxville News, Madonna Wallen stated that her daughter serves as a mentor for some fellow inmates as they work to earn their GEDs.
On August 24, 2001, Cornett and death row inmate Christa Pike allegedly attacked fellow prisoner Patricia Jones, nearly strangling Jones to death with a shoe string after Pike and Jones were placed in a holding cell with Cornett during a fire alarm. Although the Department of Corrections believed that Cornett was involved, investigators found insufficient evidence to charge her with helping Pike, who was subsequently found guilty of attempted murder.
- Helen Smith, The Scarred Heart: Understanding and Identifying Kids Who Kill, Callisto, 2000, ISBN 978-0615112237.
- Jesse Fox Mayshark, "A Blackened Rainbow: How do we make sense of the Lillelid murders?", Weekly Wire, 20 Apr 1998.
- Routine Call, Horrific Crime, Knoxville News, April 1, 2007
- Town of Greeneville TN Website, July 17, 1997
- Town of Greeneville TN Website, March 13, 1998
- Town of Greeneville TN Website, March 12, 1998
- Women on Death Row, Tennessee Department of Correction.
- Love and Hate on Death Row, The Tennessean July 6 2003, Available on Prison Talk Online