The Illinois woman convicted for her involvement in the drowning death of her three young children in 2003 should not get another chance to be a mother, a Cook County juvenile court judge ruled Friday, ordering that Amanda Ware’s two daughters and a son—children from the new life she built since leaving prison for her crime—should, for their own safety, not be returned. At least not today.
Cook County Judge Demetrios Kottaras appointed guardianship of the new children to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, but did not rule out their eventual return home. A permanency hearing has been scheduled to revisit the case in six months.
Twelve years ago, Christopher, 6, Austin, 3, and Kyleigh, 23 months, drowned when Maurice LaGrone—the boyfriend of their mother, Amanda Ware (then Amanda Hamm)—drove a 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass carrying the children and Ware into Clinton Lake.
Ware called 911 and reported that the car had accidentally rolled into the water, but something seemed amiss when emergency responders arrived to find the car submerged in four-and-a-half feet of water, and the couple standing on the shore.
“There’s no reason at all that any adult couldn’t get those children out of the water,” Craig Brown, father to 3-year-old Austin, said at the time.
Officials arrested Ware and LaGrone soon after and put them on trial for murder where they both faced the death penalty. Meanwhile, national news organizations descended on the sleepy Clinton community. Ware’s mother appeared on NBC’s The Today Show.
“I would have never dreamed in a million years that she would do something like this,” her mother, Ann Denison told a national audience. “She knows I would have taken the kids.”
Ware maintained her innocence throughout the trial, while prosecutors alleged her low self-esteem and abusive relationship with LaGrone caused her to go along with her boyfriend’s murder plot. The children, state’s lawyers argued, were “interfering with the couple’s relationship and his sex-and-drugs lifestyle.”
The defense, led by court-appointed attorney Steve Skelton—who later called the case among “the most complex” in his career—argued that Ware was also the victim of police, who allegedly elicited a false confession, which was offered while she was hospitalized for suicidal ideations after the drownings.
LaGrone received a life sentence without the possibility of parole for the murders, but a jury rejected murder charges for Ware, instead convicting her of child endangerment, for which she was sentenced to 10 years. She was released after five years on Sept. 9, 2008— but as part of her sentence, Ware was placed on a list of child abusers, where she was ordered to remain for 50 years.
Upon receiving her short sentence in 2007, Ware told the court, “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.”
By March 2014, it seemed Ware had realized those goals. Ware was living in Chicago and married to Leo Ware, with whom she had three new children: two girls, now ages 4 and 3, and one boy, now 15 months. But after a doctor at the Chicago hospital where her new son had just been born recognized Ware as the woman involved in the 2003 drownings, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services pulled the children from her care, fearing for the minors’ safety.
Ware has been trying to regain custody ever since.
A report from the state DCFS noted that Ware’s drug tests had consistently come back clean, and that no allegations had been filed against her or her husband. The agency credited her with overcoming substance abuse and a history of physical and sexual abusive to become a “very conscientious and patient mother.”
At a November hearing where Judge Kottaras stifled tears recounting the 2003 drownings, he ruled that Ware was too much of a threat to have her children returned, saying, “by no stretch of the imagination was the drowning death of the mother’s three oldest children an accident.”
“It has been argued that the Ware children look fine. We do not have to wait for the injuries,” he said.
In the recent hearings to determine long term custody of the Ware children, Assistant State’s Attorney Gina Perdue pointed to Leo Ware’s history of drug abuse and gang involvement as indicators of the dangers the the couple’s three children face should they be returned. Despite a drug relapse from Leo Ware last year, lawyers for the couple claim that’s all in the past.
The current appointed legal guardian, Carol Casey, told the court Wednesday that the Ware children miss their parents and want to go home. The Wares, who have been separated for months—in part they say because of the stress of the custody fight—have been visiting the children almost daily in foster care.
The heinous killings of children by their mothers are always well-documented in the media, but attention often fades once the sentence has been handed down.
Houston mother Andrea Yates drowned her five small children in her bathtub in 2001. After originally being sentenced to life in prison for the murders, a new trial ordered by an appeals court reversed the decision, and found her not guilty by reason of insanity due to her postpartum depression and psychosis. The father of the murdered children, Rusty Yates, has come forward to say he thinks his ex-wife should be released from the mental hospital where she was committed following the reversal.
Susan Smith, with whom Ware’s prosecutors drew parallels during Ware’s trial, was convicted in 1995 of the murder of her 3-year-old and 14-month old sons. Prosecutors told jurors Smith strapped her young boys into their carseats and rolled her Mazda into a South Carolina lake, then told police she had been carjacked by a black man with a gun. Smith, who is serving a life sentence, wrote to local paper The State last year saying in part, “I am not the monster society thinks I am.”