CLINTON - The 2003 drowning deaths of three children and the July 11 stabbing of a pregnant mother and her son were ruled homicides Wednesday by a DeWitt County coroner's jury convened to hear three high-profile cases.
The panel also determined that the death of a Kenney man who died in a fire May 11 was accidental but avoidable.
The drowning deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months, were the result of a homicide, according to the verdict returned by the panel of three men and three women.
Coroner Alex Calvert told the jury that Amanda Hamm, the children's mother, and her former boyfriend Maurice LaGrone were charged with murder in the Sept. 2, 2003, deaths in Clinton Lake. LaGrone was convicted in April and Hamm is set to go on trial in October.
Calvert said he waited three years to conduct the inquest into the children's deaths because investigators requested a delay until the legal case against Hamm and LaGrone was assembled. The coroner's jury determination will allow final death certificates to be issued, said Calvert.
Craig Brown, Austin Brown's father, said the verdict did not provide closure.
"I don't feel like I can rest until Amanda's trial is over and she's put away. Some days I have to look inside to find reasons to go on with my own life," said Brown. He said his children help him find those reasons.
Katie, Kendall Griffieth
Katie Griffieth, 29, and her 8-year-old son Kendall died as a result of multiple stab wounds, according to Calvert. The pregnant mother and her son were found on a bed in the back bedroom of their home at 202 Harvest St., Hallsville.
Two of Griffieth's other four children, ages 3 and 18 months, were in the home at the time of the slayings and alerted neighbors to the situation more than 12 hours after the deaths, Calvert told the jury.
Roger Griffieth, the husband from whom Katie Griffieth was separated, asked Calvert about the number of 911 calls made to police from the home the day the bodies were discovered.
Details about the slayings have been turned over to the DeWitt County state's attorney "but will be withheld until the time of trial," Calvert told Griffieth.
Griffieth declined to comment after the inquest.
Arthur Thomas Massey, 37, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Katie and Kendall Griffieth and three counts of intentional homicide of an unborn child.
The inquest jury heard from DeWitt County Sheriff's Detective Rick Hawn that William Hubble, 25, died after he likely started a fire that destroyed the Wildside Cabaret in May.
Investigators found Hubble's body crouched in a fetal position behind a door in a storage area adjacent to the strip club, said Hawn. A gas can was found near Hubble's outstretched arm.
Hubble's blood alcohol level was 0.227, almost three times the legal limit of intoxication for driving in Illinois. He died of smoke inhalation.
Police have theorized from interviews with patrons and dancers at the club that Hubble may have been upset by a young woman's decision to work at the strip club.