Hamm not guilty of murder

Hamm not guilty of murder

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DECATUR - Amanda Hamm sat with her arms wrapped tightly around her body and cried Tuesday as a Macon County jury returned guilty verdicts of child endangerment in the deaths of her three young children more than three years ago.

The decision, in effect, acquitted the Clinton mother of first-degree murder because she could not be found guilty of both crimes. She still could receive a sentence ranging from probation to 20 years in prison, however.

An emotional crowd of family members and police filled the courtroom at 2 p.m. for the jury's verdict. The panel of five women and seven men deliberated about 27 hours over five days.

Four jurors agreed to come to the courtroom after the verdict to meet with reporters. Juror Diane Bowers read a short written statement that said the verdict was "based upon the evidence presented to us and very, very careful deliberations."

The jury members declined to answer questions.

Hamm, 30, was accused of nine counts of first-degree murder in the September 2003 drowning deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months, in Clinton Lake.

Her former boyfriend Maurice LaGrone Jr., 31, was convicted of murder in April in the deaths.

Hamm's car went into the lake with the children in the back seat and LaGrone behind the wheel.

After the verdict was read, bond for Hamm was reduced from $5 million to $100,000 by DeWitt County Judge Stephen Peters. That would require Hamm to post $10,000 cash to be released.

Hamm's attorney Steve Skelton had asked for a $15,000 bond.

Hamm's family had no immediate plans to raise the bond money for Hamm but would wait until the sentencing hearing, said her mother, Ann Powers.

Hamm was not charged with endangering the life of her three children before the trial began, but Peters granted a request from Skelton to allow the jury to consider the lesser offense.

Sentencing is set for Feb. 1 in DeWitt County.

She will receive credit for the three years she has been in jail awaiting trial.

Skelton said he was pleased with the verdict, but will file an appeal on Hamm's behalf.

"The order of the day is to get busy on post-trial motions and get ready for the sentencing hearing," said Skelton, adding he would like the judge to consider a sentence equal to the three years Hamm has already served in jail.

"I would like to see Amanda given credit for the three years she's served and move down the road with her life. I would like to see the jail doors open as quickly as can be," Skelton said.

For the prosecution, the verdict was a disappointment after three years of investigation and trial preparation.

"I accept the verdict, but I'm not satisfied with it," said special prosecutor Roger Simpson.

Simpson viewed the child endangerment option as an important element of the jury's decision.

"I think that was certainly crucial. That gave them an opportunity to compromise on the case," Simpson said.

The role Illinois State Police investigators played in the interrogation of Hamm on several occasions was a major portion of the defense case. Skelton maintained that Hamm was coerced into making incriminating statements, including a statement taken while she was a patient at a psychiatric unit of St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur.

"It's really easy for everyone to be a Monday morning quarterback," Simpson said of criticism of police handling of the investigation.

Timeline of a tragedy

A summary of key events surrounding the drownings of Amanda Hamm's three children in Clinton Lake:

- Sept. 2, 2003: Hamm's car sinks into Clinton Lake with her three children - 6-year-old Christopher Hamm, 3-year-old Austin Brown and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm - in the back seat. Hamm and then-boyfriend Maurice LaGrone Jr. tell authorities they escaped the car after it rolled off a boat ramp but were unable to save the children.

- Dec. 10, 2003: LaGrone and Hamm are arrested separately. Each is charged with nine counts of first-degree murder.

- Dec. 18, 2003: A DeWitt County grand jury indicts LaGrone and Hamm on charges identical to the criminal complaints.

- Jan. 7, 2004: LaGrone and Hamm plead not guilty to all charges.

- Aug. 24, 2004: DeWitt County Circuit Judge Stephen H. Peters grants defendants' change of venue motions, moving the trials out of DeWitt County.

- Dec. 13, 2005: Peters releases a transcript of a closed hearing during which prosecutor Ed Parkinson revealed the prosecution's theory that LaGrone wanted to eliminate the three children because they were in the way of a sex-and-drugs lifestyle.

- Feb. 21, 2006: Jury selection begins for LaGrone's trial in Bloomington.

- April 11, 2006: Jury convicts LaGrone of three counts of first-degree murder.

- April 12, 2006: LaGrone is sentenced to life in prison without parole after a jury rules he is not eligible for the death penalty.

- July 10, 2006: Peters denies a new trial for LaGrone, sought by defense attorneys who alleged the judge erred when he denied a bid to let jurors consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. LaGrone immediately appealed conviction.

- Oct. 23, 2006: Jury selection begins for Hamm's trial in Decatur.

- Dec. 5, 2006: Peters approves a defense bid to allow jurors consider a lesser charge of endangering the life or health of a child.

- Dec. 12, 2006: Jury convicts Hamm of child endangerment.

SOURCE: Associated Press


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