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Slain boy's mother to keep baby

A woman who served nine years in prison for the 1989 potty-training death of her 2-year-old son has won custody of her infant son in Illinois.

A judge in Jerseyville County, Ill., on Friday ordered the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to immediately return the infant to his mother, Sheryl Hardy, formerly Sheryl Coe.

The 9-month-old baby was taken at birth by Illinois social workers.

Coe served nine years of a 30-year sentence in a Florida prison for the death of her son, Bradley McGee. Police said she stood by while her husband, the boy's stepfather, Thomas Coe, dunked Bradley headfirst in a toilet for soiling his pants. The child later died of head injuries.

Thomas Coe is serving a life sentence at Union Correctional Institution and is not eligible for parole.

Foster parents, children's advocates and lawmakers used the Bradley McGee case to bring about major changes in how state social services workers handled child abuse cases.

After his death, state legislators ordered changes in the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. The agency was later dismantled and reorganized as the Department of Children and Families and child welfare was put ahead of family reunification.

Sheryl Coe left prison July 7, 1999, under an early release program. She moved to Illinois, remarried and had another child.

The boy was taken at birth by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services because of his mother's Florida conviction, said department spokesman Andy Martinez.

Friday's ruling by Circuit Judge Thomas Russell will be appealed by Jerseyville State Attorney Mary Kirbach.

Bradley McGee spent most of his short life in foster care. He was born June 6, 1987, and abandoned by Coe, 17 at the time, four months later.

His foster parents were trying to adopt him when Bradley's parents asked to have him back and won.

Bradley died 66 days after he was reunited with the Coes.

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