CHAMPAIGN - An attorney for Mary Slover tried Thursday to convince a panel of appellate court judges to reverse a decision stripping her of custody of 11-year-old Kolten Slover, insisting there's no evidence she helped cover up the murder of the boy's mother.
Kolten is the son of murder victim Karyn Hearn Slover and her former husband, Michael Slover Jr. He now lives with his maternal grandparents, Larry and Donna Hearn of Mount Zion.
In 2002, a Macon County jury convicted Slover Jr., 34, and his parents, Michael Slover Sr., 58, and Jeannette Slover, 56, of the 1996 murder of Karyn Slover. After Karyn Slover was shot seven times in the head, her body was dismembered and dumped in Lake Shelbyville.
Mary Slover, Kolten's paternal aunt, adopted him in 1999, months before her relatives were indicted for murder. Macon County Associate Judge Scott B. Diamond terminated her parental rights a year ago today after finding her to be an unfit parent because she aided in the concealment of the killing of Karyn Slover.
Mary Slover denies any involvement and insists her relatives are innocent. She has never been charged with or convicted of a crime.
Fourth District Appellate Court judges Robert J. Steigmann, James A. Knecht and Sue E. Myerscough heard from both sides during oral arguments held in an auditorium at the University of Illinois Law School. The case, as well as another, was heard at the school as a learning experience for students.
In the audience were Larry and Donna Hearn, investigators from the Illinois State Police and the Macon County State's Attorney's Office and the attorney for the Slovers in their appeal of the criminal case. The Hearns declined comment after the hearing.
Mary Slover's attorney, Dan Davlantis, argued Thursday that Diamond's findings were not supported by the evidence presented during a 17-month custody battle. In his ruling, Diamond said Mary Slover gave her relatives time to conceal the murder by caring for Kolten.
Davlantis said there was no evidence Mary Slover did anything that weekend other than watch Kolten. He accused Diamond of bias and of "spoon-feeding" prosecutors the theory of the case he wanted to hear.
"It seems to me that from Day 1 Judge Diamond was involved in this case, he had a preconceived notion as to where this case was going," Davlantis said.
Steigmann asked why judicial prejudice was not included in Davlantis' grounds for reversal. Davlantis said it was included as part of his argument that Diamond improperly allowed the state to repeatedly amend its petition accusing Mary Slover of abuse and neglect.
Kathy Shepard, a staff attorney with the State Appellate Prosecutor's Office, said Diamond was not biased and talked with both sides about his concerns about the case. Shepard acknowledged the custody case was based on circumstantial evidence.
Knecht and Steigmann asked Shepard what Mary Slover should have done with Kolten if she knew her relatives were covering up the crime in his presence.
"Let's assume she's totally shocked and disapproves," Steigmann said. "What's she supposed to do with the child?"
Shepard said Slover should have walked away, and said evidence presented during the hearing showed she was hostile to Karyn and had something to gain by helping her relatives.
"She wanted to step into Karyn's shoes as his mother, and that's exactly what happened," Shepard said.
Steigmann also questioned why Mary Slover has never been criminally charged. Shepard said a conviction isn't needed to strip someone of their parental rights, and the burden of proof is higher in a criminal case.
After the hearing, Davlantis said he expects to hear a ruling in the case in about a month. The judges could affirm Diamond's decision, send it back to his court for more hearings or reverse his decision outright, which would return Kolten to Mary Slover's custody.
Outside the auditorium, Mary Slover said she wants to see Kolten. She said Kolten has been cut off from all of his relatives on the Slover side of the family, and she worries that he thinks they don't care about him anymore.
"I have no faith, no hope in the justice system in this state," she said.
Diamond also terminated Michael Slover Jr.'s parental rights because of his murder conviction. Slover Jr. also is appealing, on the grounds that his criminal appeal is still pending. Diamond said any adoption of Kolten will have to wait until the appeal is complete.
After Diamond ruled on the custody case, prosecutors received permission from the appellate court to conduct DNA testing on cat hair they believe could link Mary Slover to the crime. Authorities found cat hair in the car Karyn Slover was driving the day she disappeared and want to compare it with cat hair found in Mary Slover's former Springfield residence.
Macon County State's Attorney Scott Rueter said Wednesday that some testing had been done on the cat hair but declined to comment on the results.
Stephanie Potter can be reached at spotter@;herald-review.com or 421-7984.