Proposed bill could mean early release for some convicted murders

GREENE COUNTY, TN (WJHL)- Tuesday marks 20 years since a Greene County judge sentenced since six people to life in prison in the gruesome murders of the Lillelid family.

Wednesday, a bill is up for a vote in the state legislature that could allow two of those people to eventually walk free.

"Part of the healing process has been to know that the people responsible for the evil that occurred would never be out of prison and so it's just opened up all the wounds," District Attorney General for the Third District Dan Armstrong said.

In 1998, each defendant eventually entered guilty pleas to murdering Vidar and Delfina Lillelid and their six-year-old daughter Tabitha. According to prosecutors, the six kidnaped the family at a Greene County rest stop and killed them, leaving their two-year-old son as the sole survivor.

Prosecutors said it was the group's first stop on a planned crime spree from Kentucky to New Orleans.

At the time of the murders two of the six people convicted in this case were juveniles, Jason Bryant was 14 and Karen Howell was 17.

Armstrong said a bill in the state legislature could help Bryant and Howell get out of prison early, though both have three life sentences without parole.

"No matter what they are charged with, they would be entitled the parole hearing in 30 years, that's how bizarre this bill is to me," Armstrong said.

Armstrong said the bill would make any minor who was tried as an adult and convicted of a crime, including first or second degree murder eligible for parole after 30 years, even if they got life without parole, no matter their sentence. If the bill passes, Bryant and Howell could have a parole hearing in 10 years and potentially get out in their forties.

The bill requires the court to look at factors like maturity, family background, intellectual and emotional capacity at the time of the murder.

"They made a conscious choice to mow down a family in a ditch line and they made a conscious choice to run over that family as they left. That's just evil and there's nothing about that that doesn't deserve the punishment they got," Armstrong said.

According to the Tennessee General Assembly's description of the bill (HB 0274), it would result in five inmates per year being released 29 years early on average.

The bill has cleared two committees, now it heads for a vote in the Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee on Wednesday.

You can track the bill's progress by clicking here.

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