View Full Version : Love and hate on death row - Documents against Pike provide look into prison life

07-06-2003, 06:09 PM
Love and hate on death row

For The Tennessean

Documents in case against Pike provide look into prison life

Prison bars, even on death row, can't stop convicts from pursuing dramas of love, hate, obsession and betrayal, according to a series of inmate letters and telephone calls intercepted and recorded by prison officials.

The documents, part of a new case against convicted death-row murderer Christa Pike, provide a glimpse into the small, emotional, sometimes violent world inside Tennessee Prison for Women in the Bordeaux area.

Pike is one of two women on Tennessee's death row, put there for torturing and beating a woman to death when they were Job Corps students in Knoxville in 1995.

Prosecutors, in documents filed last month, accuse Pike of trying to strangle an inmate during the confusion surrounding a fire set by a third inmate in August 2001. She could receive an additional sentence of 25-40 years if she is convicted of attempted murder.

Some inmates and correctional officers told investigators that a friend of Pike's distracted the intended victim just before Pike attacked her from behind. They said the friend then held the struggling inmate down while Pike choked her with a shoelace.

The incident involved some of Tennessee's most well-known female criminals.

Pike's friend is Natasha Cornett, 24, a self-described Satan worshipper serving three life sentences for the shooting deaths of a Knoxville couple and their 6-year-old daughter. Cornett and many other Kentucky teen-agers encountered the Lillelid family at a rest stop near Greeneville, Tenn., in 1997. The couple's 2-year-old son also was shot, but he lived.

The inmate accused of setting the fire is Jennifer Szostecki, 20, who is serving a nine-year sentence for a 2000 robbery that led to a Madison shopkeeper's being killed by Metro police. She faces an aggravated arson charge in the attack, which could add 15-25 years to her sentence.

Her love letters to Cornett and transcripts of Pike's telephone calls reveal the range of emotions behind bars.

In a call to her mother, Pike boasted about the attack on the other inmate. ''All she does is snitch on me and stab me in the back,'' Pike said.

Strong cases formed against two inmates

Davidson County prosecutors have ample evidence in the form of letters, telephone calls and statements by the women charged that one inmate at the Tennessee Prison for Women set fire to her cell and another inmate tried to kill an enemy in the ensuing confusion.

But they do not have conclusive proof that Jennifer Szostecki, who arrived at the prison in August 2001, set the fire to help death row inmate Christa Pike gain access to convicted murderer Patricia Jones, 32, who often taunted Pike about her impending execution. Pike ordinarily was kept isolated.

Szostecki and Pike have been charged in the same indictment with committing different crimes shortly after midnight Aug. 24, 2001: aggravated arson for Szostecki and attempted murder for Pike. Szostecki's court-appointed lawyer is discussing a possible settlement with prosecutors, while a Criminal Court judge has set the attempted-murder charge against Pike for trial Nov. 3.

A conviction and additional 25-40 year sentence for Pike, 27, would largely be academic unless her death sentence for torturing and murdering a fellow Job Corps student in 1995 is set aside by an appeals court.

An arson conviction for Szostecki, 20, could add 15-25 years to the nine-year sentence she is serving for her role in a robbery that led to a Madison shopkeeper being killed by Metro police in 2000.

She was 17 when she held a gun while a friend, Shawn Smith, robbed the Boutique World beauty supply store in Madison. The owner of the store, Chong Hwan An, ran outside and fired shots at the robbers as they fled, but Metro police officers shot An when they arrived on the scene and he did not immediately drop his weapon. (Smith, 21, is serving an eight-year prison sentence for his part in the robbery.)

Assistant District Attorney Mike Rohling said Wednesday that it is unlikely that Pike and Szostecki will be tried together.

Prosecutors chose not to pursue any criminal charges against another of Tennessee's most notorious female killers, Natasha Cornett, who struggled with Jones just before Pike approached Jones from behind and began choking her with a shoestring from a hiking boot. Cornett, who described herself as Pike's friend and Szostecki's ''girlfriend,'' denied that she encouraged Szostecki to set the fire, as some other inmates had charged. Correction Department investigators concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge Cornett with helping Pike attack Jones.

Prison guards put Pike, Cornett and Jones into the same recreation ''cage,'' without handcuffs, when all of the inmates in the prison's old maximum-security section were evacuated because of the fire in Szostecki's cell.

Jones, who was unconscious when a male correctional officer pulled Pike off her, later told Correction Department investigators that she thought she was ''set up'' by guards to be attacked by Pike and Cornett.

''I finally got a chance to kill you,'' correctional officers quoted Pike as saying to Jones. ''I'm gonna die anyway. ... They can't do anything to me!''

Cornett, 24, is serving three life sentences for her role in the shooting deaths of a Knoxville couple and their 6-year-old daughter, whom she and several of her friends encountered at a rest stop on Interstate 81 in Greene County in 1997.

She described herself at that time as a ''daughter of Satan.''

Correction Department spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that correctional officers violated departmental policy when they put Pike, Cornett and Jones into the same enclosed area without restraints.

''Christa Pike, by definition of being a death-row inmate, is not to have any physical contact with any other inmate at any time.''

But, Johnson said, ''In that particular instance, the officers were confronted with an emergency.'' No disciplinary action was taken against the guards involved, she said.

Johnson said she does not think the same problem could arise again because the building that formerly housed the prison's maximum-security section has been replaced by a new structure with a smoke evacuation system.

''We no longer have those old buildings that require a mass exodus,'' Johnson said.

Jones, Cornett and Szostecki were moved to other Correction Department facilities after the fire and the choking incident, but Cornett and Szostecki are back at the Tennessee Prison for Women again, along with Pike, who is one of two women awaiting execution in Tennessee.

''None of these three would have any contact with each other'' under their current security classifications, Johnson said.

Pike halted her appeals last summer, against the advice of her lawyers, and her execution was scheduled for Aug. 19, 2002. She filed a statement late in July 2002 indicating that she wanted to proceed with post-conviction appeals.

She claimed, during an interview with a Tennessean reporter last July, that she was a peacemaker in prison.

Robber's letters show love and lust for killer

A teenage robber, whose crime led to the death of a Madison shopkeeper in 2000, quickly fell in love with one of Tennessee's most notorious killers when she was sent to the state Prison for Women in August 2001.

When a fire set by the new arrival, Jennifer Szostecki, led to the transfer of her ''girlfriend,'' Natasha Cornett, to another state institution, Szostecki spun out her needs and sexual fantasies in a series of letters to Cornett.

The letters, filed in Criminal Court in connection with arson charges against Szostecki, show that the Madison woman, then 19, becoming anxious and sometimes angry when Cornett, then 22, took several weeks to respond.

''I'm going crazy w/o you,'' Szostecki said in one letter to Cornett, who is serving three life prison sentences for her role in the shooting deaths of a Knoxville couple and their 6-year-old daughter at an Interstate 81 rest stop in Greene County in 1997. ''What's up man? Why aren't you writing? ... I don't like this. Not at all.''

She also questioned whether Correction Department investigators were truthful when they suggested that Cornett and her friend, death-row inmate Christa Pike, had implicated Szostecki in a plot to murder another inmate with whom they had been feuding. (While some other inmates said there was such a plot, Cornett and Pike told investigators that there was no connection between the fire that Szostecki set in her cell on Aug. 24, 2001, and Pike's attempt to strangle Patricia Jones when all maximum-security inmates were evacuated.)

''I love you,'' Szostecki wrote in another letter. ''I hate you. I miss you. I want you. I need you.''

The court file includes two letters from Cornett to Szostecki.

She began one by cursing an inmate who had told Szostecki that Cornett was not being ''faithful'' to her, and she then described a session with a Correction Department investigator, who asked if she and Szostecki had a sexual relationship

''I said 'Well that's hard to do when your locked down. No, I haven't had sex with her if that's what you mean.' ''

Szostecki wrote, ''OK, I did get a letter from you yesterday. There was a delay in the mail room.''

She assured Cornett that she had no sexual interest in other ''attractive'' women inmates. ''I can't even think about other women like that. You overcome my mind.''

She asked Cornett what sex acts they could perform. ''I desire to be held deeply,'' Szostecki wrote.

Later in the same letter, she wrote: ''Just why are you giving me a reason to think you're plotting against me? ... Would you like to die today? No? Perhaps tonight then? I'm flexible on timing, you know. Oh dear. There goes that part of my mind the medication is supposed to silence.''

Woman described, bragged of attack to mother, friend

Christa Pike, one of two women awaiting execution in Tennessee, boasted in telephone calls to her mother and a friend that she tried her hardest to strangle another inmate with whom she had been feuding at the Tennessee Prison for Women.

''You know I hate that bh!'' Pike said, referring to Patricia Jones, 32, whom she got to know when both were at Knox County Jail awaiting trial for murder.

Pike, 27, told her mother that she ''took care of'' Jones for several years, but as of August 2001 ''all she does is snitch on me and stab me in the back.''

Pike said she had warned prison guards, ''Don't let me get in position where I'm anywhere near her 'cause there ain't no tellin' what I'm gonna do!''

Pike told her mother that when correctional officers placed Pike, Jones and a third convicted murderer, Natasha Cornett, in a recreation ''cage'' during a fire in the prison's maximum-security section shortly after midnight Aug. 24, 2001, she seized the opportunity to attack while Jones was arguing with Cornett.

A transcript of Pike's conversation with her mother shows that she laughed as she described how Jones looked as she fell unconscious to the floor after being choked with a shoestring from a hiking boot.

''I wrapped that shoestring around her and tried to choke the life out of her. She was passed out on the ground, Mama, twitching, foaming at the mouth, her eyeballs was bugged out so far, her eyelids were flipped up,'' Pike told her mother in a telephone call six days after the incident.

''I'll betcha if she gets near me, I'm gonna do it again! I'm gonna succeed this time. See, now I know the difference between premeditated murder and what happened with Colleen (Colleen Slemmer, the fellow Job Corps student Pike was convicted of torturing and beating to death in Knoxville in 1995). 'Cause, see, I premeditated the hell out of this!''

Pike told a friend, in a telephone conversation Aug. 29, 2001, that was taped and transcribed by prison officials, ''I definitely premeditated this ... my blood pressure never even went up ... I stayed calm the whole time!''

She told the friend, identified in court records only as ''Lisa,'' that Jones often taunted her by ''making that electric noise.''

''I don't think she'll be doing that much any more,'' Pike said.

Pike, who is white, complained about how heavy Jones, who is black, was when she tried to lift her from the floor while choking her. In an apparent reference to past lynchings of African-Americans in the South, Pike said, ''I feel sorry for all those trees a long time ago.''

Moments later, Pike thanked ''Lisa'' for sending photographs of her baby granddaughter.

''Oh, Brook is so beautiful! Her little toes! Oh, I just wanna bite 'em!'' Pike said, according to a transcript filed in Davidson County Criminal Court.

Jones, who is serving a life sentence for murder, regained consciousness after a correctional officer pulled Pike off her. She was transferred later that day to the Mark Luttrell Correctional Center in Memphis, where she remains.

07-06-2003, 07:37 PM
And this is the "poor" woman who was so down that we were having the card shower for?

07-06-2003, 08:45 PM
Really I posted this (and am doing so, and intend to, with other Tennessee news items) just 'cos I am trying to follow the shining example of our Danielle's lead in regularly posting news related to the Alabama system in that forum. She's an excellent role model. :)

But... since you've commented... I'll share a bit of my take on it all, mainly 'cos I think it's a good example of what the supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere of PTO is all about...

I have to admit, as a Tennesseean who has been pretty familiar with the cases of the two more prominent figures in the news article above, I have some issues with those cases... especially that of Natasha Cornett. It's not often that I have to "look the other way" when it comes to PTO, but occasionally I just make the choice to bypass and not comment on some things that come up on PTO. Like I said, it's not often, but, admittedly, discussions related to Christa Pike are some of those those I choose to bypass and not comment on, generally.

There are those here at PTO who support and care about Christa Pike, and, besides, my incarcerated loved one is a convicted murderer too, after all. The differences in the whys & hows & whats don't really matter... we're all pretty much in the same boat when someone we care about is on the inside.

And there are many sides to any and every story, of course. I can pretty much guarantee you that the family of the man my boyfriend killed would disagree that he was a scared and messed-up kid that made horrible mistake and error in judgment at the time; to them he is a monster.

All that said... PTO is about support of prisoners' families and other loved ones, as well as support of prisoners. So I certainly am in favor of anyone at PTO supporting their incarcerated loved one and doing whatever they can in support of them, whether it's Christa Pike, my boyfriend, or any of the other thousands of incarcerated loved ones and friends and family of PTO members. That's what PTO's about, and no matter my personal feelings about any particular case, I certainly would welcome with open arms the families and friends of Pike or Cornett being here and experiencing and taking advantage of all the wonderful things PTO has to offer.

Just felt it needed to be said...

07-06-2003, 08:51 PM
Well said, Lysbeth, and point well taken.

07-06-2003, 09:13 PM
Thanks Toi... and just wanted to reiterate, this wasn't meant as any judgment call against your post (and am glad you participated, as that's what PTO's about too) - obviously I agree somewhat with your comment, and we are all gonna have opinions from time to time like such. Just felt it was a good time to reiterate that PTO's about support and non-judgment, that's all. Thanks... :)

08-09-2003, 07:42 PM
how can anyone feel sympathy for christa pike? and encourage her??? to do what, kill more people? she is a useless waste of life who feels some sort of warped sense of pride for doing something that anyone "could" do, but most wouldn't. she tortured and killed that poor girl with the help of 2 others simply because she was jealous that the other girl was good looking and could take her man if she wanted to. Christa Pike is a chubby little half- rodent, half- troll who deserves what she is getting.why should anyone feel sorry for her??? i hope she doesn't get executed for a long time... i think its worth the tax payers dollars to keep her suffering in the reality of her pathetic existance! when i think about her locked up in that room for 23 hours a day forthe rest of her life, I feel so good i could sing....


08-10-2003, 12:18 AM
feurdame ... I don't recall in this post, or anyother one, requesting you to feel sorry for Christa nor anyone else ... your above post, in my opinion only, is intended to infame only, as such, is worth about as much as your song lyrics ... I pray the Lord may reach your heart with compassion for a fellow human being ...

08-10-2003, 01:17 AM
Feurdame, the original post was simply a prison-related news article and whether or not anyone should or should not support Christa Pike is really irrelevant to this particular thread.

This is an older news item to begin with and the debate over this particular prisoner has been rather worn out in several PTO threads over time, so this thread is being closed.

08-10-2003, 06:04 PM
No need to waste any more time on feurdame. They are no longer a member here.