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FATAL NEGLECT

Moline woman sentenced in death of 15-year-old son who weighed 38 pounds at time of death

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A Moline woman is to serve four years probation in connection with the death of her 15-year-old son.

Jennifer Keim, 36, initially was charged with murder in the Nov. 3, 2020, death of her son, Joseph "J.J." Hammond. Prosecutors accused her of failing to provide, "appropriate hydration, nutrition and medical care … (and) knowing that doing so created the strong probability of death or great bodily harm."

The teen was born with cerebral palsy and was profoundly disabled.

In front of a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that filled all six courtroom pews and forced the bailiff to add rows of seats, Keim said J.J.'s death "tore my family apart."

"There is pain that never goes away," she said. "There is not a day that goes by that my heart does not ache."

Keim told the court in November of 2020 the spread of COVID-19 filled her with "overwhelming fear and panic." Her attorney, Jon Ruud, later repeated the effect fears about the pandemic had on Keim's decision-making.

"We might not remember it well today, but in the fall of 2020 the world was on fire," Ruud said to the court. "We were told to not go to emergency rooms."

Rock Island County Assistant State's Attorney Sean Williams asked 14th Circuit Court Judge Frank Fuhr to impose the maximum sentence of 14 years. He said Keim showed "a horrible lack of action" and pointed out J.J. weighed just 38 pounds at the time of his death.

"Even during the pandemic, there were alternatives," Williams said. "Some action was required … neglect caused J.J.'s death."

Ashlei Hammond, J.J.'s stepmother read a victim's impact statement on behalf of the boy's father and their family. She said she didn't know if Keim didn't take J.J. to a doctor sooner "… because of pride or fear or indifference, or a messy mixture of all three."

"He deserved better than this," Hammond said. "Even if it was his time to go, he deserved to go peacefully and without pain … But instead he sat in that chair and died slowly and painfully over a span of three days while everyday life just went on around him."

Fuhr said he weighed the fact Keim pleaded guilty.

"This is a tragedy," Fuhr said before he stated the sentence. "There is nothing anyone can do to bring J.J. back, and I'm sorry. I want to extend my condolences to J.J.'s father and stepmother."

In September, prosecutors reached a plea agreement with Keim on an amended charge of criminal abuse or neglect of a person with a disability, which is a Class 2 felony.

Keim's husband, Justin Keim, 34, also is charged with neglect/abuse of a disabled person.

Both Jennifer and Justin Keim petitioned for and received bond reductions, which allowed them to be out of jail while awaiting hearings.

Rock Island County State's Attorney Dora Villarreal said the case was particularly "disturbing" for law enforcement and attorneys in her office, due to "J.J." Hammond's condition at the time of his death. The teen's weight was 38 pounds, she said.

But family members, friends and neighbors said J.J.'s physical condition often was poor, even though his mother did everything she could for him.

At the time of Jennifer Keim's arrest, childhood friend Christa Axnix said: "I know this family intimately. Everyone who knows Jennifer knows the hard work and dedication she put into keeping J.J. alive."

His frequent bouts with respiratory infections made the Keims fearful, Axnix said, of taking J.J. to doctors' offices or the hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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