Amanda Hamm Released from Prison
Amanda Hamm Goes Home After Serving Five Years in
the Deaths of Her Three Children
By Penny Clifton Pennell - Voices.yahoo.com
September 10, 2008
Amanda Hamm, the young mother imprisoned for child
endangerment that resulted in death, was released from Dwight
Correctional Institute on September 9, 2008. She had served five years
of a 10-year sentence for the deaths of
her three children, Christopher, age 6; Austin, age 3; and Kyleigh,
age 23 months. The story made headlines around the globe.
The three children were buckled into their mother's
vehicle in September 2003 when it rolled into Clinton Lake in Clinton,
Illinois. Hamm and her then-boyfriend, Maurice LaGrone, stood on the
boat ramp as the car became submerged in approximately 4 feet of
water. Christopher and Austin were pronounced dead that day. Kyleigh
died the next day in a Peoria-area hospital.
I assisted in the coverage of this story while
working as a journalist for a newspaper in Clinton. Shockwaves were
felt throughout the community, as this type of crime didn't occur in
Clinton, Illinois. The media swarmed the town, with the Associated
Press setting up camp in my office and MSNBC, CNN, and newspapers from
miles away make Clinton their home. Clintonians were upset at the
media attention, and would often drive by the courthouse yelling out
their car windows for the media to pack it up and go away.
Needless to say, the small bedroom community was
divided on their opinions and theories as to what happened that tragic
evening. Many believed that Hamm was controlled by LaGrone, and that
he manipulated her into committing the crime in order to give them the
freedom they desired. Some believed that Hamm was fully aware of what
she was doing and that she participated in killing the children. Many
compared this tragedy to that of Susan Smith, who allowed her car to
roll into lake John D. Long in South Carolina while her two young boys
were buckled in the back seat.
Hamm's mother, Ann Powers, has worked for the
DeWitt County State's Attorneys office for years. A special prosecutor
was assigned to the case to avoid any conflict of interest. It was
Powers and her husband, Lindy, who picked Hamm up from prison and she
was whisked away to an undisclosed location. They refused to comment
to the media.
Around the country, many protested the vast
differences in the sentences received by Hamm and LaGrone. While Hamm
was convicted of child endangerment that resulted in death and
sentenced 10 years, LaGrone was convicted of murder and sentenced to
life in prison. He is serving his time in Pontiac, Illinois.
Ironically, this prison is being threatened with closure due to lack
of funds. Many people believe LaGrone's sentence was much stiffer
because he is black
At age 32, Hamm is still young enough to start a new life and even
have more children. It is unknown where she will now make her home.
Clinton drownings mother out of prison
Hamm convicted of child endangerment in 2003 deaths
of three children
September 9, 2008
CLINTON — A central Illinois woman convicted of watching as a car with
her three children sank in Clinton Lake five years ago walked out of
prison Tuesday after being released on parole.
Amanda Hamm made no comment as she left the Dwight
Correctional Center with her mother and stepfather Tuesday morning.
Convicted of child endangerment, Hamm spent a year and seven months in
custody after spending more than three years in jail awaiting trial.
While Hamm reportedly headed to a Chicago halfway
house, some people in Clinton, the small town where she and her
children lived, wondered aloud why Hamm is free after serving just
less than five years, while her boyfriend, Maurice LaGrone Jr., is
still locked up. LaGrone is serving a life sentence after being
convicted in 2006 of first-degree murder.
Others in town, though, said they wouldn't judge
the 32-year-old Hamm. One, a retired Methodist minister who visited
Hamm behind bars and exchanged letters with her, said she'll probably
never be free.
"With a tragedy like this, I don't know that you
ever really get out of that prison," said Don Ferrill, 77, who lives
in Clinton, about 35 miles south of Bloomington. "It's not like
there's an end to this."
Hamm declined to answer reporters' questions
outside the prison Tuesday. But her mother, Ann Powers, told The
(Bloomington) Pantagraph that the family has "a long road ahead of us
even after Amanda is released. We just want to move forward."
Hamm was convicted of child endangerment in 2006 in
the September 2003 deaths of 6-year-old Christopher Hamm, 3-year-old
Austin Brown and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm. Prosecutors say Hamm and
LaGrone plotted to drown the children in Clinton Lake because they got
in the way of the couple's relationship.
LaGrone and Hamm insisted in their trials that the
deaths were an accident and the car rolled down a steep boat ramp into
4 1/2 feet of water after LaGrone parked too close to the edge.
Hamm initially faced murder charges and the
prospect of a death sentence, but her lead attorney, Steven Skelton of
Springfield, convinced a judge to allow jurors to consider the lesser
child endangerment charge alongside murder.
Jurors in McLean County acquitted Hamm of murder, choosing the lesser
charge. The judge sentenced her to 10 years in prison, half of the
potential maximum, something that angered the fathers of the three
children and the men's families.
She'll have to undergo mental health counseling and
meet with drug- and alcohol-abuse counselors, who will decide if she
needs treatment, said Ken Tupy, an attorney with the state Prisoner
Ferrill, who greeted Hamm outside the prison in
Dwight - about 60 miles northeast of Bloomington - said Hamm was
headed Tuesday to a halfway house in Chicago. Tupy and Department of
Corrections spokesman Derek Schnapp declined to discuss Hamm's
During her February 2007 sentencing, Hamm insisted
she was innocent. But she told the court she regretted her
relationship with LaGrone.
On Tuesday, a number of people in Clinton and a
relative of one of the children wondered why Hamm and LaGrone hadn't
been convicted of the same charges and why she is free while he is
"Her kids are dead; she's at least partly
responsible for that," said Dan Senters of nearby Waynesville. He is a
cousin of Shane Senters, Kyleigh Hamm's father.
But a few others were unwilling to judge Hamm or
the justice system.
"That's between her and the Lord," said Jerry
Watkins, who owns a downtown clock and jewelry shop. Of her release,
Watkins said, "That's the way the law seen it."
Ferrill said he doesn't know Hamm's plans. Much of
her family, including her mother, still lives in Clinton.
Some residents said Tuesday they couldn't imagine
Hamm living among Clinton's 2,500 residents.
"I don't know how she could show her face in town,"
said Marilynn Blair, a mother of five.
Ferrill said he met Hamm in the DeWitt County Jail,
not long after her arrest. He isn't her family's minister but said
they started meeting regularly and exchanging letters while Hamm was
The minister said he found Hamm to be smart and a
good writer, but someone who "didn't give a hoot" when she was
younger, leading her to quit school and make a lot of bad decisions.
Ferrill said he has no idea exactly what happened
when the children died or what led to their deaths.
"I don't know if she and Maurice knows what
happened," he said.
Illinois mom sentenced
to 10 years in lake drownings of 3 children in car
February 1, 2007
CLINTON, Ill. (AP) — A woman convicted of letting
her three young children drown in a car that sank in a lake was
sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison.
Amanda Hamm, 30, was convicted
in December in the deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and
Kyleigh Hamm, 1, who were trapped in the car in Clinton Lake in 2003.
She was cleared of first-degree murder charges that would have sent
her to prison for life.
Prosecutors allege Hamm and
then-boyfriend Maurice LaGrone Jr. planned the deaths because the
children were in the way of their relationship. Hamm and LaGrone, who
was convicted of first-degree murder, have maintained the car
accidentally rolled into the water as LaGrone tried to back up from a
Hamm had faced a sentence
ranging from probation to 20 years.
Before her sentencing, Hamm
tearfully asked the judge for mercy, saying that she never wanted to
cause her children any harm and regrets forming a relationship with
Hamm told the judge that she
loved her children and regrets forming a relationship with LaGrone.
She also said she was looking to the future, noting that outlook
seemed selfish because her children have none.
"I cannot change what has
occurred but I can, and will, try to live my life in a way which will
be pleasing to them ... ," Hamm said.
Prosecutor Ed Parkinson, who
had sought a 20-year prison sentence, said he was disappointed because
justice wasn't done for the children.
Hamm could be released in 14
months, with credit for more than three years she already served
awaiting trial and sentencing and credit for good behavior, her
The judge said his sentence was
based in part on Hamm's potential for rehabilitation and he did not
believe she'd commit a similar crime again. He said it also factored
in her failure to protect the children and sends a message to deter
others from such crimes.
LaGrone, 31, serving a life
sentence without a chance of parole, has appealed his conviction.
Amanda Hamm sentenced to 10
years in prison
Time served, good time could
reduce term to 14 months
By Edith Brady-Lunny -
February 1, 2007
CLINTON - Amanda Hamm was sentenced to 10 years in
prison for her role in the drowning deaths of her children, but the
time she's already spent in jail means she likely will be released in
a little more than a year.
Reactions ranged from rage to tears of joy outside
the courtroom Thursday after she was sentenced on child endangerment
The Clinton mother showed no emotion as Judge
Stephen Peters handed down the sentence, which could have been as long
as 20 years in prison.
"I am now faced with a life that holds promise for
me and my future and realize how ironic this must sound because
Christopher, Austin and Kyleigh no longer have similar horizons to
look forward to," Hamm told the court.
She was convicted in December of child endangerment
but acquitted of first-degree murder charges in the September 2003
drowning deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and Kyleigh
Hamm, 23 months, in Clinton Lake.
Hamm's former boyfriend Maurice LaGrone Jr., 31, is
serving a life sentence for first-degree murder in the deaths of
Hamm's children. He was convicted in April.
Defense attorney Steve Skelton said after the
hearing that Hamm could spend slightly more than a year in prison
after she receives credit for three years in the county jail awaiting
trial and day-for-day credit available to her for good behavior in
"Now Amanda is looking at a release date 14 months
from today," said Skelton.
Skelton called the verdict "excellent." He said
Hamm was prepared for the possibility that the judge could give her
the maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
Skelton had asked the court to consider a sentence
of eight years.
Hamm's mother, Ann Powers testified at the
sentencing hearing that her daughter has matured since her arrest.
"She's paid the ultimate price by losing her kids
because of abuse and she's finally come to accept how she needs to
change her life. She realizes she's worth more than that," Powers
Special prosecutor Roger Simpson asked Powers her
opinion as to what justice the children deserved.
"I don't know how to answer that. I loved my
grandchildren, and I love my daughter," Powers responded.
Greg Hamm, the father of Christopher, brushed past
reporters after the hearing. When asked his reaction to the judge's
decision, he yelled an obscenity on his way out of the building.
Craig Brown said the sentence minimizes the death
of his son, Austin. He said Hamm's statement to the judge Thursday was
the first statement she has made since her arrest.
"She came in here to try to get the least amount of
sentence possible. Then she speaks up," Brown said.
Hamm was convicted by a Macon County jury of three
counts of child endangerment, a lesser charge that was added as an
option while she was on trial on nine counts of first-degree murder.
Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson joined family
members in their disapproval of how the case concluded.
"This case is about three dead children. It's not
about all the scientific crap we've heard the last three years. I'm
disappointed in the verdict and sentence," Parkinson said.
Peters told the large audience in the courtroom
that he took several factors into consideration in his decision to
give Hamm 10 years. A prior record that included numerous traffic
violations and five misdemeanor convictions was taken into account
along with the potential to rehabilitate Hamm.
Peters said testimony at both trials indicated that
Hamm knew her children were physically and emotionally abused by
LaGrone. Hamm's boyfriend admitted he put Austin's head in the oven as
a so-called prank.
"These were three children who had no means of
defending themselves," Peters said.
LaGrone previously claimed it was another prank to
scare the children that led him to park Hamm's car close to the water
on the lake's boat ramp. The car ended up rolling into the water and
sinking with the three children in the back seat.
Hamm and LaGrone said they escaped from the car but
could not save the children.
The judge also noted that Hamm used illegal drugs
during the year she and the children lived with LaGrone.
In arguments for a maximum sentence of 20 years,
the prosecution disagreed with testimony from Hamm's mother.
"Amanda Hamm has not paid the ultimate price. Her
children paid the ultimate price," Simpson said.
Simpson contended Hamm was responsible for the
children's deaths because she put her boyfriend's needs over those of
"This was a crime of selfishness," Simpson said.
Drownings case summary
The case: Amanda Hamm and then-boyfriend Maurice
LaGrone Jr. were both charged with first-degree murder in the deaths
of Hamm's three children, who drowned after the family's car sank off
a boat ramp at Clinton Lake on Sept. 2, 2003.
The arguments: Prosecutors alleged LaGrone plotted
the killings because the children hampered his sex-and-drugs lifestyle
and Hamm went along with the plan to save their troubled and sometimes
abusive relationship. Hamm and LaGrone maintained the drownings were a
tragic accident that occurred when the car rolled into the lake during
a family outing.
The verdicts: A Macon County jury cleared Hamm of
murder charges in December, but convicted her on lesser charges of
child endangerment. Her attorney, Steve Skelton of Bloomington, said
the verdict indicates jurors didn't believe Hamm helped plan the
killings, but knew LaGrone was a threat to her children. LaGrone was
convicted of murder by a McLean County jury in April. Jurors said
afterward they did not believe LaGrone meant to kill the children, but
should have known his actions put the youngsters in harm's way.
The sentences: Hamm was sentenced Thursday to 10
years. LaGrone is serving a life sentence without the chance of
The appeals: Skelton plans to appeal her
conviction, and has filed post-trial motions seeking her release, or a
new trial. LaGrone's appeal is pending; he argues a judge erred when
he rejected a defense bid to offer jurors a lesser charge of
Motive For Drowning
December 5, 2006
A woman accused of drowning her
three young sons had asked her mother to take custody of two of the
children so she could move to St. Louis with her boyfriend, the mother
Separately, Amanda Hamm's
ex-husband, Shane Senters, said Hamm had also discussed her plans with
"She didn't think she could
take all the kids with her, but I never thought anything would
happen," Senters, the father of one of the boys, told WCIA-TV of
Hamm, 27, and her boyfriend,
Maurice Lagrone Jr., 28, are charged with murder in the drowning
deaths of her children, 6-year-old Christopher Hamm, 3-year-old Austin
Brown and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm.
The children died when the car
they were in plunged off a boat ramp into Clinton Lake on Sept. 2.
Hamm and Lagrone were on the lakeshore when rescuers arrived. Both
remain in custody on $5 million bond.
Two hours after Hamm cried as a
judge read the first-degree murder charges against her, her mother,
Ann Danison, said she couldn't help but wonder if she could have
averted the tragedy.
"She was my only child. My only
grandkids. I don't have any more," Danison said, her voice breaking.
"And I'll never have them."
Danison said Hamm had asked her
to care for two of her sons so she could move to St. Louis with
Lagrone. But Danison told her she could take only Christopher.
Speaking to The Associated
Press in her home, Danison said she "hurt for" Hamm when she saw her
in court, "but at the same time I was mad, too."
Danison said she believes Hamm
is guilty but that Lagrone somehow "brainwashed" her into believing
she was doing the right thing.
"Amanda is not a violent
person. What she did was wrong. I can't accept what happened," Danison
Authorities have refused to
disclose a motive in the case, although they say they have one and
that it doesn't involve life insurance money. The case is being
handled by a special prosecutor because Danison is the office manager
for the state's attorney.
It sounds awful, but parents
who kill their children are not as uncommon as most people would
believe. CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports, surprisingly,
1 in 3 children under the age of 5 who are killed in this country, are
murdered by their mother. And one of every 33 homicides in this
country is a parent killing a child, including 450 times last year,
attorney, Steve Skelton, said he may ask to move the trial from
Clinton, a central Illinois town of about 7,500. "The massive amount
of media coverage makes a fair and impartial trial in the current
venue unlikely," he said.
Lagrone has not yet hired an
Danison described her daughter
as a high school dropout who had been treated for alcohol abuse but
who seemed to calm down after becoming a mother.
"Amanda's a very depressed
person, low self-esteem, very insecure. But she'd laugh with the kids.
She always had a great Christmas for them. ... She'd plan for their
birthdays," Danison said.
Danison said she didn't approve
of Lagrone because he couldn't hold a job and wouldn't care for the
children, although he played with them.
Preliminary hearings were set
for Jan. 7.
Family left wondering after 3 children drown
By Jim Paul - Associated Press
Sunday, December 14, 2003
CLINTON, Ill. - Family photographs show a happy,
loving mother, smiling broadly with her firstborn son on a vacation,
and later watching as the growing boy cradles his baby brother on his
A far different picture has emerged in the past
week, however, since Amanda Hamm and her boyfriend were arrested on
murder charges alleging they put her two sons and infant daughter in a
car and then watched as it rolled into Clinton Lake, drowning the
Hamm's life has been complicated, says her mother
and others who know her. The children were born of three different
relationships, she had low self-esteem and she had been treated for
But she kept her children healthy and well-fed
while she worked, mostly as a waitress, to support them, said her
mother, Ann Danison.
''She took them to the park. She got them involved
in swim lessons,'' Danison said. ''She loved her kids.''
By all accounts, 6-year-old Christopher Hamm,
3-year-old Austin Brown and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm were happy
Austin's father, Craig Brown, described his son as
a jokester and very smart. ''He had to be to come up with some of the
stories he told,'' Brown said.
Christopher loved the Chicago Cubs and basketball.
Kyleigh was easygoing and quiet, Danison said.
DeWitt County Sheriff Roger Massey won't say why
investigators believe Hamm and her boyfriend, Maurice Lagrone Jr.,
committed murder. Neither has entered a plea.
Hundreds of interviews, tests of Hamm's car and
consultation with medical experts added up to justify the charges,
which could bring the death penalty if they are convicted, Massey
He also has said that authorities have a possible
motive and that the case has ''some similarities'' to 1994 case of
Susan Smith, who was convicted of drowning her two young sons by
rolling her car into a South Carolina lake with the boys strapped into
their car seats, but he wouldn't elaborate on the connection.
''It's one of those cases where you're going to
have to see the whole thing to be able to understand,'' Massey told
reporters. Preliminary hearings were set for Jan. 7.
Hamm called 911 from the Clinton Lake on Sept. 2,
saying a car had rolled into the water and her children were still
inside. When officials arrived five minutes after the call, the rear
of the car was in 41/2 feet of water. Rescuers pulled the children out
but couldn't save them.
Authorities say Hamm, 27, and Lagrone, 28, told
rescuers the car accidentally slipped into the water, but several
people close to Hamm said they thought right away that something was
''There's no reason at all that any adult couldn't
get those children out of the water,'' said Brown, who often cared for
all three children.
Hamm's court-appointed attorney, Steve Skelton, was
out of his Bloomington office Friday. On the day Hamm first appeared
in court on the charges, Skelton said he worried about her ability to
get a fair trial in such an emotionally charged case.
Hamm's upbringing certainly will be discussed at
Her parents divorced when she was about four,
Danison said. After Danison remarried, her new husband adopted Hamm.
''I think it hurt her that her dad would give up his rights to her,''
Hamm became rebellious as a teenager, skipping
school and sneaking out of the house, her mother said.
''I spent a lot of hours in the middle of the night
looking for her,'' Danison said in an interview with The Associated
She said Hamm quit school three months before
graduation and had stays at alcohol treatment centers before Danison
kicked her out of her house in 1996, when she was 20.
''It broke my heart to do that,'' Danison said.
But she said her daughter eventually settled down
and became a devoted mother.
Less is known about Lagrone.
Hamm's former neighbors say Lagrone liked to play
with the children. But he couldn't keep a job and wouldn't baby-sit
while Hamm worked, Danison said.
Lagrone, who like Hamm was being held on $5 million
bail, had not yet hired an attorney.
A couple months before the drownings, Danison said,
Hamm told her of plans to move with Lagrone to St. Louis. She wanted
Danison to keep Christopher through the school year, and later asked
if she could keep Austin, too.
But because Austin was only three, Danison said she
told her daughter he'd be better off with his mother and sister.
''If she had come to me and said 'Mom, I just can't
handle the kids anymore,' I'd have taken them, all three of them,''