CLINTON — Maurice LaGrone Jr. pushed his girlfriend and one of her children down the stairs and forced another child to put his head in an oven, according to a court transcript released to The Pantagraph as part of LaGrone's triple-murder case.
But not all of those allegations will be heard at LaGrone's upcoming trial.
LaGrone and his now-former girlfriend, Amanda Hamm, each are charged with the drowning deaths of Hamm's three children, who perished when their mother's car sank in Clinton Lake in September 2003.
"What we're trying to show is the motive for Maurice LaGrone to eliminate these bothersome kids from his daily self-pleasure of smoking marijuana, having sex, not working, living off his girlfriend — that's his life," Ed Parkinson, the state's special prosecutor, told Judge Stephen Peters in May during a hearing that Peters closed to the public.
Allegations depicting LaGrone in a negative light should not be allowed as part of the state's effort to prove motive, LaGrone's attorney argued. "Motive is not character assassination," said Jeff Justice.
The Pantagraph, The Associated Press and the Decatur Herald & Review sued for access to the hearing; the transcripts were released Tuesday.
LaGrone and Hamm, both 29, each face nine counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6; Austin Brown, 3; and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months. LaGrone's trial begins Feb. 21 in McLean County; a date has not been set for Hamm's trial. Both remain in custody at the DeWitt County Jail.
The state ?~has gone too far'
Justice asked Peters to bar statements about LaGrone's relationship with the children, who were in the rear of the car when it sank.
In May, Parkinson said the children interfered with LaGrone and the life he wanted to live with Hamm. Police have said the pair planned to move to St. Louis, where Hamm would attend school.
LaGrone and neighbors earlier told police LaGrone played with the children and had a normal family life, and that LaGrone and Hamm both worked at a local restaurant.
But Peters heard from attorneys about statements Austin made to his mother's friend, Beverly Clymer. "Maurice pushed Mommy down the stairs," the 3-year-old told Clymer, although Hamm later denied that.
Kyleigh's aunt, Susan Swearingen, also told authorities that Austin accused LaGrone of putting his head in the oven about a month before the drownings.
Swearingen also told police "Kyleigh appeared to have more bruises on her since Hamm began her relationship with LaGrone, but the bruises were mostly on Kyleigh's legs," according to the transcript.
Christopher talked to early childhood educator Kim Gaff. "I don't like him. He pushed me down the stairs," Gaff quoted the child as saying about a week before the drownings.
Parkinson argued the boys' statements should be considered by a jury. The statements are "something that shows an attitude towards these kids that somehow (they) were the only ones that didn't make it out of that car. The only ones that made it out of that car are on trial."
Peters ruled the jury would not hear statements from Clymer or Swearingen, but Gaff's comments are admissible.
Justice also acknowledged Hamm and LaGrone did not have a monogamous relationship, but that doesn't mean he's guilty.
"Obviously the absence of monogamy does not relate to any specific elements of murder in this case," said Justice. That LaGrone smoked marijuana, had sex with other women and did not regularly work does not mean he committed murder, he said.
"Unless they can present some evidence that says that he said the kids were in the way or some document or something that justifies the speculation, (the state has) gone too far," Justice said.