Mary Slover may never face formal charges in an elaborate family murder plot that enabled her to become a mother. But she may lose her parental rights anyway.
An Illinois judge is expected to decide Friday whether to terminate the Slover's parental rights over her 10-year-old nephew because of Slover's alleged involvement in the 1996 death of her sister-in-law Karyn Hearn Slover.
Mary's brother Michael and parents are serving 60-year prison terms for first-degree murder in that slaying.
Mary has never been arrested in connection with the case. But authorities say she at least knew about the murder and may have been involved in an attempt to conceal the crime. Charges against her continue to be considered.
"The matter of a criminal case against Mary Slover remains an ongoing issue," said Scott Rueter, Macon County district attorney. "Criminal charges are a possibility."
Yet it may be simpler for authorities to take away her parental rights. To bring criminal charges against Slover, prosecutors must believe they have evidence beyond reasonable doubt that proves her guilt.
By contrast, to find her unfit as a parent and terminate her rights, they only have to present clear and convincing evidence — a lower standard of proof.
Family Feud Rooted in Custody Battle
In 1996, Karyn Hearn Slover was shot seven times in the head, dismembered, and then dumped in a lake before being found by authorities.
A custody dispute prompted the slaying: Karyn had won a custody battle with Michael Slover Jr. over their son, identified as "KMS" in court papers. Michael Jr. and his parents feared she was about to accept an out-of-state modeling job and move out West with KMS. So, prosecutors argued, they hatched an elaborate plot to gain custody of the child.
But was Mary Slover part of the plot? After her brother and parents were charged in the slaying in 1999, she legally adopted KMS. Last year, 12 days after the trio's murder conviction, authorities took KMS away from Mary and placed him in foster care after speculation surfaced over her alleged involvement.
Mary has denied any involvement in the murder case. Her attorney believes the slain victim's family's grudge against the Slover family, not concern over KMS, has fueled the drive to terminate her parental rights. Larry and Donna Hearn, Karyn's parents, are seeking guardianship of their grandson.
"My client has never been charged with a crime. She has never been charged with murder, aiding and abetting, concealment, not even jaywalking," said Dan Davlantis, Mary Slover's attorney. "There is no evidence whatsoever that she had anything to do with the murder."
Added Davlantis: "What this is about is the undoing of an adoption, a legal adoption. … I don't know what the family of the victim [the Hearns] have against Mary other than family ties, that they don't like the fact that a Slover has been raising the boy."
Suspicion over Mary Slover's alleged involvement in a murder cover-up was sparked partly by her co-workers, who said in court hearings that she admitted not liking Karyn Hearn Slover. Co-workers testified that Mary believed that she could be a better mother to KMS than Karyn and that she wished death on her sister-in-law.