Defense costs in Isom trial ballooning

2012-11-24T00:00:00Z 2013-09-16T17:56:05Z Defense costs in Isom trial ballooningBy Susan Brown, (219) 662-5325
November 24, 2012 12:00 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Defending a Gary man facing the death penalty has the potential to cost Lake County taxpayers more than any trial in county history.

The latest available figures show defense costs for 46-year-old Kevin Isom are more than the total cost of defending a similar defendant a decade ago.

The ballooning is partially accounted for by Isom's trial entering a second round of jury selection -- the first ending in a March mistrial when the jury pool was depleted.

Isom is charged with murder in the August 2007 slayings of his wife, Cassandra, 40, and two stepchildren — Michael Moore, 16, and Ci'Andria Cole, 13 — in their apartment in Gary's Miller Beach neighborhood.

The cost of defending him shifted to taxpayers after the death in October 2010 of his private defense counsel.

The latest jury selection in the Isom trial begins Monday and is expected to run until Dec. 21 or until a jury is selected. Twelve jurors and five alternates need to be seated when the trial opens Jan. 7. Jurors will be sequestered in a hotel for a trial anticipated to last three to five weeks. 

The Indiana Public Defender Commission last week showed defense costs for Isom at $379,356 as of Sept. 19, with $189,678 reimbursed to Lake County.

Death penalty costs eligible for reimbursement are paid back at a 50 percent rate rather than the typical 40 percent, according to the state office.

In comparison, defense costs amounted to a total $411,907 following the conviction of Daryl Jeter in 2006. A total $205,954 was reimbursed.

Jeter was convicted of killing Indiana State Trooper Scott Patrick in 2003. Jurors in Jeter's trial rejected the death penalty, opting for a sentence of life without parole.

In addition to the extra cost incurred by a second round of jury selection in the Isom case, hotel accommodations and food for the 17 jurors are estimated at a conservative $38,000 for a three-week period.

Other juror expenses overseen by Lake County court administrator Martin Goldman were not available.

Costs for additional personnel either already have or will accrue with the need for additional public defenders and court bailiffs to cover the positions of those involved in the Isom trial.

For example, the Lake County Board of Commissioners approved a $20,000 request by the county public defender's office to contract an attorney to undertake the backlog of cases of the two attorneys representing Isom.

Cash-strapped county officials are dipping into casino revenues set aside for emergencies to meet the challenge of the enhanced state rules governing death penalty cases.

A 2010 study by the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Services Agency has found death penalty cases in Indiana cost many times that of a case of life without parole.

The state analysis determined the cost to a county for trial and direct appeal in six capital cases averaged $449,887 in contrast to seven life-without-parole cases averaging $42,658.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, who sought the death penalty for Isom if convicted, has kept a low profile on the proceedings, as do most court officials.

However, in discussing death penalty issues in 2010, Carter told The Times he certainly understands the economic impact.

Yet he also understands victims are concerned about justice being served, he said at the time.

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