BLOOMINGTON — A nurse and a former soldier joined six other jurors Tuesday in the murder trial of Maurice LaGrone Jr.
LaGrone, 30, and Amanda Hamm,29, each face nine counts of first degree murder in connection with the September 2003 drowning deaths of Hamm's three children. LaGrone and Hamm lived with the children in Clinton when the incident occurred in Clinton Lake.
On the sixth day of jury selection, a total of 13 potential jurors were questioned extensively about the case, including their feelings about the death penalty, interracial relationships and experiences with life threatening emergencies.
Forty-eight would-be jurors from a pool of 250 have been questioned so far.
The nurse accepted by the court and attorneys for the defense and prosecution is married with three children. She said her opinion on the death penalty is neutral.
The former soldier is a part-time college student who served in the U.S. Army before receiving a medical discharge.
In response to a question from DeWitt County Judge Stephen Peters about the death penalty, the juror said, "if it's proven that it fits the criteria, I'm definitely for the death penalty."
The state is seeking the death penalty against Hamm and LaGrone.
The current jury panel is comprised of three men and five women. One of the male jurors is black, an important element of jury composition for the defense because LaGrone is black.
Two potential jurors were excused Tuesday when they told the judge they opposed the death penalty and could not sign a verdict in favor of capital punishment. The last jury candidate interviewed said she believes the death penalty is appropriate in certain cases.
"If a person purposefully takes the life of innocent people because they felt like it was something they wanted to do that day, it would seem that the death penalty in a situation like that could be fair," said the State Farm Bank secretary.
No decision has been reached on whether the black woman will be seated on the panel.
Two women were excused by the judge Tuesday after they said they could not set aside comparisons of the Hamm children to youngsters in their own family. Several other potential jurors, all of the parents or grandparents, have expressed similar reservations.
Other potential jurors were sent home because of work and family commitments, knowledge of witnesses and employment that does not pay workers for jury service.
Jurors will hear about four weeks of testimony in the LaGrone case. Next week, a series of pre-trial motions will be heard in Clinton without the jury.
Questioning of potential jurors continues at 9:15 a.m. Wednesday in McLean County where the case was moved because of pre-trial media coverage.