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CLINTON - The mother of accused murderer Amanda Hamm attended a town hall meeting Saturday to discuss the death penalty and how two pending death cases impact the small rural community.

Speaking hypothetically, Ann Powers questioned whether humans have the power to put others to death.

"If God can forgive, who are we to make the decision to kill somebody?" Powers asked the group of 25 participants.

Powers said she didn't consider the the death penalty before her daughter was charged with nine counts of murder. The state is seeking the death penalty against Hamm and former boyfriend, Maurice LaGrone, in the September 2003 deaths of Hamm's three children.

"The death penalty was not an issue in my life. But I know that God is about forgiveness and I know he'll forgive if we ask for forgiveness," said Powers.

The town hall meeting was sponsored by the Coalition for Non-Violent Communities, an organization that looks at the causes of violence in communities.

Tricia Teater, board president of the Illinois Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said Powers' attendance was a powerful reminder that violent crime affects small communities.

"It's shocking to me that we would sit in this room with our neighbor and discuss whether it's appropriate to kill her daughter or not. She lost her babies. That she can sit here is a testament to her love for her daughter and her neighbors," said Teater.

Clinton native Kari Sommers traveled from Chicago attend the meeting and support Powers. She said the decision to seek the death penalty against Hamm and LaGrone may have more to do with money than justice. A state fund assists counties with the costs of death penalty cases.

"It's like a price has been put on someone's life and that's appalling," said Sommers.

Tom Farris, a candidate for DeWitt County sheriff, said law enforcement and the legal system play important roles in the criminal justice process. Farris said he is neither for nor against the death penalty.

Community dialogue on the issue is helpful, he said, as the town braces for the start of the LaGrone trial on Feb. 21.

While the majority of those at the town hall session oppose the death penalty, supporter Bruce Butler commented that premeditated murder calls for the most serious penalty.

"If a person has had a reasonable number of appeals, they should pay the ultimate price for killing someone," said Butler.

Supporter Dixie Montgomery challenged the group to suggest an alternative deterrent to the death penalty.

One participant suggested life in prison without parole has been used in many states where violent crime rates are at or below the Illinois rate.

The factors of poverty, race and education are often behind the lives of those on death row, according to comments Saturday.n;

"It's not an easy road for a large number of people who are uneducated, unloved and unparented," said Cheryl Lietz.


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