Edith Brady-Lunny has been a fixture in the halls of the McLean County Law and Justice Center for years. After working as a correspondent for the Pantagraph for two decades, she took on the role of court reporter in 2007.
“I really like covering legal issues as well as covering the individual cases. I like to try to understand what was behind court decisions,” she shares.
Some of those decisions not only made for front page headlines, they left a lasting impression on this seasoned journalist, including the 2008 trial of Jeff Pelo, a former Bloomington Police Sergeant convicted of stalking and raping multiple women.
“Of course that was highly unusual for any community, to have one of your veteran police officers convicted and sentenced later to 375 years in prison, that was a very high profile profile case,” Brady-Lunny recalls. “And then you have really sad cases. In 2009 we had a family in Beason, Illinois. The parents and their three children were just slaughtered, that would be the only word for it, in their home. And there were two brothers who were convicted, one of murder, one of concealing the murder.”
Meanwhile, another high profile murder case involving Kirk Zimmerman, a Bloomington man accused of killing his ex-wife Pamela Zimmerman, prompted Brady-Lunny to postpone her retirement until the trial concluded.
“We did cover that case from the very beginning, from the night it happened.”
As a result, Dateline interviewed her for a special report on the case. It aired on NBC after Zimmerman was both found not guilty, and his defense released a statement calling out the Pantagraph and Brady-Lunny, claiming her reporting showed a clear bias.
“It was a little surprising that he would, you know, just single out one person. But I also was the person who, I think, was there the most and did the most extensive coverage,” she admits.
She also points to evidence the jury wasn’t allowed to see or hear in the Zimmerman case that was still discussed in pre-trial hearings, which she defends as public information.
“Just because something is excluded as evidence does not mean that the discussion of that evidence and the disclosure of what was filed in court is not going to be made public,” she explains.
It’s information she believes could have lead to a different outcome, had the jury heard it.
“The jury did not get to hear a lot of the exchanges back-and-forth between Pam and Kirk Zimmerman during the divorce. They did not find out some of the financial benefits that the children had gotten and how that benefited Kirk Zimmerman in the end,” she recalls.
And that’s not the only well known case Brady-Lunny covered where she felt what jurors didn’t hear impacted the outcome, pointing to the 2003 drowning of three children in Clinton Lake.
Their mother, Amanda Hamm and her boyfriend Maurice LaGrone were accused of intentionally driving their car into the water and leaving the children to die. Hamm was convicted of child endangerment. LaGrone received a life sentence for their murder. Both have maintained it was an accident to this day.
It’s something Brady-Lunny explores in a recently published book she co-wrote, titled, “The Unforgiven: The Untold Story of One Woman’s Search for Love and Justice.”
“I think what a lot of people still scratch their heads about in those cases is the issue of motivation. There was just too much in this case that did not fit the state’s theory,” she shares, outlining part of the basis for the book. “The state’s theory was that Amanda wanted to leave Central Illinois with Maurice LaGrone and escape to a new life in St. Louis, and that the three kids were just in the way. And I think the issue that I have, and that a lot of people have had over the years, is the fact that her life and Maurice’s life were pretty well-subsidized by the fact that she had these three children. They lived in a subsidized apartment, they had help with their finances, they had their utilities, their food, their rent, everything was based on that. And there was also evidence that when she applied for her school in St. Louis where she wanted to attend, she also applied for housing that included her three children. So their theory that they were going to have this fantasy life in St. Louis didn’t fit her pattern, and it also didn’t fit Maurice’s, because Maurice’s patter was to live with women, many of them had small children. He was entrusted with their care, and there was never an issue of violence involving those children.”
She says her book examines the facts of the case, including a look at what she believes to be a more probable scenario for what happened that fateful day.
“So when those two ended up on the boat ramp they were two people who had a very, very dysfunctional backgrounds and lives, so the fact that they may not have been able to figure out how to safely back a car up the ramp and rescue three children, it’s probably something that fit more to their backgrounds than the theory that they had been able to put together a very complex, scientifically, complicated plot to drown three children.”
The book also looks at the story that continued after that court case and Hamm’s time served, when she married and had 3 more children, only to have them taken away by the State in 2017, a move Brady-Lunny suggests may have been politically motivated.
“It’s fair to examine what happened with Amanda Hamm and why she was treated differently because of her rather notorious background. And the question is, what role did politics play in their decision to simply go in and remove the kids who were not being abused and neglected? And I think those are questions that help inform the public and help them decide what should be done in the future to avoid these kinds of situations.”
She explores the case in her book, which she’s focusing on promoting now in her retirement. However, she hasn’t completely turned the page on print, admitting she might return to write the occasional article for the Pantagraph in the future. It seems print journalism is in her blood. In all, she’s worked in the newspaper business for more than three decades. Before her tenure in McLean County, she also owned and ran a small paper in DeWitt County, and worked for papers in Michigan and California. And, although she recognizes this is a tough time for newspapers across the country, she maintains it’s important to support local journalism and combat “fake news.”
“I think the term ‘fake news’ has to be put in context. I mean, what it really means is, ‘news I don’t agree with.’ And we’ve become so partisan and divided in this country over how we cover the news in certain circumstances and how we divide up into partisan camps to cover the news, we’ve also divided the country so that the country is only following one camp or the other camp. So it’s a real struggle to play it down the middle and still have an audience that wants to just be informed that’s not looking just for news that they can agree on. So, that’s a real struggle for us, and I think that’s another reason that we’ve seen those of us who really try to do a fair job and do an unbiased job of delivering the news or having such a hard time.”
As for why she feels it’s so important to support local journalists, particularly those in print?
“The print media is able to do a more comprehensive job on stories. When you lose your print media you are losing your representative on the street…you will never have anybody who will care about your community news more than your local news representatives, whether that’s in print, television, or in the radio. If you lose those you have lost your connection to the community and your government.”