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Moving on right now to "Justice Served."

Jan. 7, 2004 - CNN

A woman charged with murder of the drowning deaths of her three children was in court in Illinois today. She and her former boyfriend pled not guilty to the murders. Even the woman's mother has expressed some doubt.

Keith Oppenheim reports.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For many who knew them, 6-year-old Christopher Hamm, 3-year-old Austin Brown and 23-month-old Kyleigh Hamm, the motive to end their lives remains a mystery.

DIANA TOUD, NEIGHBOR OF ACCUSED: We want to know why we lost three babies.

OPPENHEIM: Police in Dewitt County, Illinois say the children were murdered here, in a serene place called Clinton Lake. Investigators say the victims were all in the back seat of their mother's car when it rolled down this boat ramp on the evening of September 2. That mom, Amanda Hamm and her boyfriend Maurice Lagrone Jr. have been charged with multiple counts of first degree murder. But police still have not disclosed why they believe the couple intentionally killed the children.

ROGER MASSEY, DEWITT COUNTY SHERIFF: That's one of the things we're not going to get into. That's one of things you are going to have get at trial.

OPPENHEIM: In court today, both Hamm and Lagrone pleaded not guilty to the charges. Before the incident Hamm worked at this restaurant as a waitress, Lagrone was a dishwasher there. Neighbors say they were together about a year and parented well together.

EMILY STRANGE, NEIGHBOR: Maurice was not the biological father of them children but he was still their father. Kyleigh called him daddy

OPPENHEIM: Neighbors also said Ham and Lagrone were devastated by the deaths. Now both face their own deaths as possible punishment if convicted in this case.

Keith Oppenheim, CNN.

COOPER: It's certainly a shocking crime. Sadly it's a crime we've heard before.

Joining us in San Francisco tonight, "360" legal analyst, Kimberly Guifoyle Newsom. Kimberly, good to see you as always.

Hamm's attorney suggested his client's mental state on the night of the murder might be part of the defense.

Does it sound to you like he's setting up for some sort of insanity defense?

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE NEWSOM, 360 LEGAL ANALYST: I think they are going to try to pursue that route. They have to make decision at some point. The initial stories that came out after this incident occurred was that it was a terrible, tragic accident. Authorities didn't buy it. But that's the statement that Hamm and Lagrone made. So, they are going to have to change their story if they wants to pursue an insanity defense. Keep in mind we have not seen that worked well with Andrea Yates or Susan Smith or others like that in similar situations.

COOPER: And what sort of has fueled I guess a lot of the speculation by prosecutors, but also even some members of these peoples' family, these kids were drowned in 4 feet of water. It would not have been too hard, it seem, at least on the face of it, to rescue some of these kids. The charge against Hamm, first-degree murder by accountability. What does that mean about what the prosecution thinks what happened?

NEWSOM: It tell us the charges decision made by the prosecution, that they are going against her on a theory of accomplice liability. That the actually principal or main person involved in this would be Lagrone, who keep in mind was not the father of any of the children. But it suggest that she was an active participant, that perhaps she encouraged him, assisted him, aided and abetted in the deaths of her three children.

COOPER: Now, the prosecution has not come forward to say what they think the motive is. They say you are just going to have to wait for trial for that. There had been I guess a lot of talk in town. These two were talking about moving to Saint Louis, starting over with a new life, the intimation they didn't want their kids or her kids slowing them down in some way.

Were you surprised that the prosecution really has not been very forward about what their case, what they think the motive is?

NEWSOM: No. I think they're still compiling facts. They have until early April to decide whether or not they're going to seek the death penalty in this case. And both individuals are equally liable under the eyes of the law. They are both eligible for the death penalty and they could seek it against both of them. I wouldn't be surprised if they did. If their case can add up and they can show they had this motive to perhaps get away and that these poor children were some kind of hindrance or obstruction for their life together then a jury is not going to be sympathetic to them. COOPER: Guilty or not, it is just a sickening event. Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, thanks for joining us.

NEWSOM: Thank you.

COOPER: More legal news. Scott Peterson's attorney is pushing forward with a change of venue request at a hearing tomorrow in Modesto, California. The defense team is expected to make its case for moving the trial to Los Angeles County.

With all the media coverage of the murder of Laci Peterson, her unborn child, can the accused husband get a fair trial no matter where it's held?

That's one question.

Earlier I spoke with jury consultant Marshall Hennington. I started with -- by asking him what's going to make the judge decide whether to move the case or not.

MARSHALL HENNINGTON, JURY CONSULTANT: Well, there are a number issues to consider. No. 1 how compelling is each side's of the argument? No. 2 what information did they obtain from the respondents in that particular venue, Stanislaw County as well as Modesto. That's going to be interesting.

And more importantly, what issues of bias are going to come up that perhaps could enhance either side.

COOPER: Mark Geragos says there is a lynch mob atmosphere in Stanislaw County, that's why he wants this change of venue out of Modesto. But how can he prove that? I mean how does it work?

HENNINGTON: Well, that's his theory. His theory is there is a lynch-mob mentality out there. And I'm sure that is connected with the feedback he's received doing research and...

COOPER: But what kind of research is it?

I mean, they do telephone interviews?

HENNINGTON: Yes. What happens is that as trial jury consultants we conduct community attitude surveys, which are essentially similar to politicians doing polling. We assist with getting information from particular jurors in a certain venue to see exactly what their attitudes, opinions and beliefs are with respect to the central issues of the case.

COOPER: Bottom line, you have done this work a lot. Do you think it's going to get a change of venue?

HENNINGTON: It's an uphill battle. There's a number of things to consider, the roll of the media, how people feel about his guilt or innocence, how he has been portrayed by individuals associated with the case that have come on these shows. It's going to be an uphill battle for Mark Geragos. But at the same time, the state has to really make a compelling argument in order for the case to stay in that particular jurisdiction.

I'll tell you what's to be what's going to be interesting is, can Mark Geragos get this trial delayed, because to me, as a trial and jury consultant, I would try to have the Jackson case go before the Geragos case, because if, in fact, Mark Geragos ends up on the losing end of the Peterson matter, then what possibly may happen is that Michael Jackson may substitute in another attorney to represent him, because he doesn't want to be affiliated with a losing case.

COOPER: Interesting. All right, we'll see. Marshall Hennington, appreciate you joining us, thank you.

HENNINGTON: Thank you.

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