CROWN POINT | Family members of Kevin Isom testified Wednesday as the sentencing phase of the capital murder trial began the morning after Isom's conviction.
The testimony only deepened the mystery still surrounding what actually triggered the triple homicide.
The 47-year-old Gary man was convicted of murdering his wife, Cassandra Isom, 40, and his stepchildren, Michael Moore, 16, and C'Andria Cole, 13, nearly six years ago in their Miller apartment. He also was found guilty on three counts of criminal recklessness for shooting at police during the following stand-off.
On Wednesday, Isom's mother, Lula Isom, and two close cousins, Kimberly Stewart Porter and Carolyn Stewart Cannon, described Isom as a good man, a protective "man of the house" to a large, close-knit extended family and a hard worker.
"Kevin's my brother. He's not my cousin. We grew up together," Porter told jurors. "I don't know what happened. No one knows what happened."
Cannon said she was the big sister Isom never had. When Cannon moved to Gary from Chicago, she brought Lula and Kevin with her, and Kevin lived with her until 1994 or 1995, contributing to the household income.
Cannon said Isom met Cassandra while both worked at a home health care agency.
Cannon described Isom as a homebody, no less so after his marriage.
"I am asking you to please spare my cousin's life," Cannon told jurors, pleading for forgiveness.
Isom, however, wasn't there to hear his family's lavish praise.
Not long into Lula Isom's earlier testimony, Isom sought to no longer be present in the courtroom.
The request, which is his constitutional right, was granted, but not until after a lengthy effort by the court and his attorneys to dissuade him.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. warned Isom the jurors may take his absence as a sign he didn't care if he lived or died. He wouldn't be there to aid his attorneys in correcting any mistaken testimony, the judge told Isom.
Isom's fate now is solely in the hands of jurors, who may sentence him to death, life without parole or a set number of years to be imposed by the judge.
Defense attorney Herbert Shaps attempted to delay the trial by asking the court to approve having Isom's mental state evaluated, but Stefaniak denied Shaps' motion, saying his own observance of Isom over five years and five weeks of trial showed him to be an intelligent man capable of making his own decisions.
Isom stood his ground to not be present during his family's testimony as he wished. Stefaniak, however, said Isom would be welcomed back if he later changed his mind.
Lula Isom, the daughter of an Arkansas sharecropper who moved to Chicago as a child and later to Gary, returned to the stand to describe her relationship with her only child.
"Very close, always," she said.
She described him as a good man, her protector, a family man who associated primarily with his many cousins and then his family with Cassandra.
"I love him," she said simply. "I would love a person like him if he weren't my son."
The sentencing phase of the trial ended much earlier than typical Wednesday. However, Stefaniak promised jurors a long, intensive workday Thursday, telling jurors they may have the case by Friday or Saturday.