Woman pleads guilty in drug death

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com
A Carter County woman pleaded guilty in Criminal Court Tuesday in the March 2001 death of 23-year-old James Aaron Cornett.
Natasha Michaela Bowers-Williams, 24, 194 Roy Bowers Rd., entered her guilty plea on a charge of facilitation to second degree murder and was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment with the Tennessee Department of Corrections, according to court records. She also pleaded guilty to a charge of violation of probation stemming from another case and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison for that conviction, giving her a total jail sentence of 13-and-a-half years. She was given credit for 446 days she has served in jail on various charges since the court case against her began.
Bowers-Williams had been indicted on a charge of second degree murder and three other people had been indicted as accessories to the incident. Johnny Williams, Bowers-Williams husband, 1025 Bluefield Ave., Heather Rhea Kropp, no address available, and Kropp's mother, Kathy Diane Benfield, no address available, were all charged with being an accessory after the fact of criminally negligent homicide. According to indictments against the three, Williams, Kropp and Benfield all failed to provide aid to Cornett and provided Bowers-Williams with a means of avoiding arrest and prosecution by giving false statements to investigators.
According to police reports, around 5:30 a.m. on March 21, 2001, deputies of the Carter County Sheriff's Department responded to 879 Blue Springs Rd., where Benfield and Kropp resided at the time, regarding a possible overdose.
At that time, Kropp told officers that Cornett had called her the previous evening and asked her to pick him up around 9:30 p.m. She said they went to Benfield's residence where Cornett had a six-pack of beer.
Kropp then told officers that the group was going to the bedroom to watch television around 12:30 a.m. and Cornett passed out in the hallway. She said they placed him on a bed and watched over him until he stopped breathing and then called 911. Cornett was taken to Sycamore Shoals Hospital and placed on a respirator. He died later that day.
While giving statements to CCSD Investigator Audrey Covington, all four of those charged said that Cornett had been drinking but that they did not know what had caused him to pass out.
An autopsy was ordered at that time. The autopsy was finalized in January of 2002 by Dr. Gretel Harlan of the Quillen College of Medicine who determined that Cornett's death was the result of respiratory suppression due to toxic levels of Oxycodone, a form of the drug OxyContin.
According to reports, Covington then brought Bowers-Williams, Williams, Kropp and Benfield back for questioning and each told her they had lied in March 2001 and advised her that Bowers-Williams sold Cornett two Oxycodone tablets, after which, Bowers-Williams, Williams, Kropp and Cornett went into the bathroom, crushed the tablets up, liquefied them and injected them.
In addition to pleading guilty to facilitation to second degree murder and violation of probation, Bowers-Williams also pleaded guilty to a charge of theft under $500 and felony reckless endangerment. She was sentenced to one year of probation which will begin upon her release from the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Those charges stem from an incident in September of 2003 where Bowers-Williams and Williams were arrested at Wal-Mart after store loss prevention personnel reportedly saw them conceal several DVDs and then leave the store without paying for them.
Bowers-Williams was taken into custody by Elizabethton Police Department officers after loss prevention personnel contacted police and said that when they attempted to stop her in the parking for the shoplifting, she struck one of the loss prevention employees with a vehicle she was driving in an attempt to flee the scene.
Williams was issued a criminal summons for shoplifting, but Bowers-Williams was taken into custody at the scene and charged with aggravated assault. She pleaded guilty in court to a down-graded charge of felony reckless endangerment.
Williams, Kropp and Benfield are all scheduled to appear in Carter County Criminal Court on Friday on the charges against them in the death of Cornett.