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Killer of Lillelid family denied appeal

Staff Report • Mar 13, 2013 at 1:25 PM

NASHVILLE — A federal court has refused to hear the appeal of one of six people serving life in prison for the 1997 roadside murders of a 6-year-old girl and her parents.

Karen R. Howell was 17 years old when she and five other young people from eastern Kentucky abducted the Lillelid (LIL'-ih-lid) family at a rest stop in Greene County, Tenn. Howell was the second youngest in the group, which ranged in age from 14 to 20.

She had argued that she received ineffective counsel before pleading guilty and that her lawyer should have had her involuntarily committed to a mental institution before her case was transferred from juvenile court to adult court.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected that argument, saying there wasn't enough evidence to show that Howell was so mentally disturbed at the time that she would meet the requirements to be committed against her will. The court also noted that even if she had been confined to a psychiatric institution, ultimately Howell would have had to face the charges.

"Neither she nor her experts claim an involuntary commitment in 1997 would have been permanent or lasted much more than six months," the opinion, written by Judge Jeffrey Sutton, said. "At some point, in other words, Howell would have faced responsibility for her admitted role in the three murders."

The Lillelid family had just returned from a Jehovah's witness conference and was headed home to Knoxville when they were taken hostage, shot and left for dead. Killed were Vidar (VEE'-dar) Lillelid, 34, his wife Delfina, 28, and their 6-year-old daughter Tabitha.

The couple's 2-year-old son Peter was shot twice but survived.

The six Kentuckians were captured in the Lillelids' van in Arizona two days after the shootings.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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