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DECATUR - The jury in the Amanda Hamm murder trial went home Wednesday after 2½ hours of deliberation without reaching a verdict.

Deliberations resume this morning in the trial of the Clinton mother who is accused of drowning her three children in Clinton Lake in September 2003. Hamm's former boyfriend Maurice LaGrone Jr. was convicted in April of similar murder counts in the deaths of Christopher Hamm, 6, Austin Brown, 3, and Kyleigh Hamm, 23 months.

The jury heard closing arguments Wednesday morning from special prosecutor Roger Simpson and defense attorney Steve Skelton.

In his final remarks to the jury, Simpson described LaGrone as an addiction for Hamm, a man who replaced the three children as the focus of Hamm's attention.

The state maintains that Hamm and LaGrone conspired to kill the children by deliberately sinking Hamm's car in the lake with the youngsters in the back seat. Simspon told the jurors the state does not believe Hamm was even in the car when it went into the lake. Neither Hamm nor LaGrone tried to save the children, Simspon said.

"Nobody ever saw them in the water - nobody," the prosecutor said.

Simpson asked the jury not to consider a lesser charge of child endangerment, an option DeWitt County Judge Steve Peters approved for the jury at the request of the defense Tuesday.

"Don't cheapen this case. Don't compromise the evidence in this case by returning that verdict alone," Simpson said of the lesser charge.

Skelton used his final appearance before the jury to question the motivation the couple may have had for killing the children. He also questioned the tactics used by state police to obtain information from Hamm about the incident.

Skelton pointed out that Hamm collected benefits from several public sources because she was the mother of three children.

"Well over 60 percent of this family's budget was predicated on the existence of Christopher, Austin and Kyleigh. Any idiot can do the math on that," Skelton said.

The failure of the Illinois State Police to record an interview with Hamm taken while she was psychiatric patient at St. Mary's Hospital in Decatur puts the officers' credibility in question, Skelton said.

"If you can't trust the messenger, you can't trust with certainty the message that's brought into the courtroom," Skelton said.

The defense lawyer theorized that a tape recorder was taken into the hospital, but officers did not maintain the recording.

"Maybe the tape wasn't what they wanted to hear," he said.

The jury began their deliberations about 2 p.m. and went home at 4:30 p.m. Attorneys were brought into the courtroom after about 90 minutes of deliberations when the jury had three questions for the court. The content of the inquiries was not revealed, and the public was not allowed into the courtroom to hear the questions.

Edith Brady-Lunny can be reached at eblunny@mchsi.com.

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