CLINTON, Ill. (WAND) - In 2003, three young children drowned in Clinton Lake.
Their mother, Amanda Hamm, and her live-in boyfriend, Maurice LaGrone Jr., were charged in their murders. Amanda Hamm was convicted of child endangerment. LaGrone Junior was convicted of murder for the children’s deaths.
Still, more than 16 years later in the small central Illinois town of Clinton, everyone remembers the three kids and the tragic story of their deaths. Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm were trapped in the back seat of a car when it sank in Clinton Lake.
Edith Brady-Lunny, a former reporter for The Pantagraph, lives in Clinton and was working on Sept. 3, 2003, when the emergency call went out over the scanners. She wrote the book covering the Clinton drownings, called "The Unforgiven".
How could this have happened? LaGrone Jr. claimed it all started as a prank and was not on purpose.
“He did pull pranks that a lot of us would think was very ill advised, that we would not think they are funny," Brady-Lunny said. "So Maurice said he parked on the boat ramp, facing the water in an attempt to scare the kids.”
And that's when the car slid into the water. Maurice and Amanda escaped the sinking car, while the children died. Both were charged with murder in the deaths of Amanda’s three children.
Prosecutors said the motive was to get rid of the kids because they didn’t fit in with the couple’s lifestyle.
Maurice LaGrone Jr. was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Amanda Hamm was convicted of child endangerment. She served five years of a 10 year sentence.
After her release from the Illinois Department of Corrections in 2008, Hamm moved to Chicago to create a new life. She met a man and got married. They had three children together.
When she went to deliver her third child, a doctor recognized her as the woman in the Clinton drowning case and called the Department of Children and Family Services.
DCSF took all of the children out of her care. Neither she or her husband would ever get to take their newborn baby home from the hospital.
A four-year fight with DCFS ensued.
“Her lawyer argued she did serve her time and there was nothing to prohibit her from having more kids," Brady-Lunny said. "The state told her and notified her that she was on a registry for known abusers and she's (been) on that for 50 years. Amanda says she never received (notice) because she was incarcerated.”
Carol Casey is with the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office. She represented the kids in this case and talked with WAND News.
“It was very unique and it created quite a bit of work on the part of the investigators, the attorneys and the court to figure out whether there was anticipatory neglect there," she said.
Amanda's two daughters showed no signs of abuse or neglect, but the children will not go back in her care because of a statute known as anticipatory neglect.
“For example, if you have two kids in home at (the) same (time) and one was injured and one wasn't, the last the law clearly states we don't have to wait for that second child to get hurt," Casey said. "And the same thing occurs when a kid is born couple years later, but parent hasn't fixed issues that led to the first two kids being abused or neglected. Then we're talking about anticipatory neglect of that other child."
In 2018, a Cook County Judge ruled Amanda Hamm and her husband will not have custody of the three children. The guardian for the children is their father’s sister.
Amanda has supervised visits, while the children's father has unsupervised visitation. Brady-Lunny was at the trial in Chicago, too.
“The judge's position was that Amanda should admit to participating or having a role in (the) murder of her children," she said. "And she would not do that.”
Casey said this case is extremely rare. Amanda and her now ex-husband, the children’s father, can still file a petition to get the children back. Brady-Lunny, who has talked to Amanda for "The Unforgiven", said the mother will never give up trying to get her kids back.
Casey said cases are reviewed every six months.
"If their situation changes, if they have now corrected conditions we have talked about, and frankly because children are a moving target, right? If the kids are a lot older, then we're going to be looking at it in a different light," she said. "Because children can be more self-protective."