Final jury selection to begin in Isom death penalty case

2012-11-24T11:42:00Z 2013-09-16T17:56:05Z Final jury selection to begin in Isom death penalty caseSusan Brown susan.brown@nwi.com, (219) 662-5325 nwitimes.com
November 24, 2012 11:42 am  • 

CROWN POINT | Beginning Monday, Lake County court officials will launch the final exhaustive round of selecting jurors in the county's only death penalty case.

An effort in March to seat a death-penalty-qualified jury ended with Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. declaring a mistrial when the jury pool was depleted with only nine jurors seated.

Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter amended murder and attempted murder charges against 46-year-old Kevin Isom to include the death penalty back in January 2008.

Isom is charged in the Aug. 6, 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 triple homicide was discovered when Gary police raided Isom's apartment after a standoff of several hours. A neighbor of the family had alerted police to the sound of gunshots about 10:30 p.m.

Court documents state Isom was found on the floor of a bedroom with a revolver in his waistband and his wife and stepchildren shot dead.

Isom is reported telling police his wife, upset about his unemployment, had mentioned leaving him a few days before the shootings.

The trial has experienced numerous delays, including the determination of Isom's competency to stand trial, the death of a private defense counsel, the appointment of public defenders and the failure to seat a jury.

Following the mistrial, Stefaniak doubled the number of prospective jurors to 1,150, who received a 48-page questionnaire exploring their suitability.

Some 700 have been excused since June, leaving a pool of 450 jurors, who this month attended orientation meetings to familiarize them with the final phase of the process.

Each prospective juror now will be interviewed individually by Stefaniak, the state and the defense teams to select 12 jurors and five alternates.

Stefaniak during last week's orientation emphasized the seriousness of the task.

Stefaniak said jurors will be charged with deciding not only Isom's guilt but also his fate if convicted. Isom faces the death penalty, a sentence of life without the possibility of parole or a sentence of a specific number of years.

"Life without the possibility of parole in Indiana means just that," Stefaniak said. 

Stefaniak said the upcoming interviews will continue six days a week until Dec. 21 or a jury is selected.

To be seated, jurors must be what is known as "death-qualified."

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, to be death-sentence trial qualified, jurors must be able to consider both execution and life in prison without strong predispositions to either. They must be able to consider both aggravating and mitigating evidence and render a death sentence in an appropriate case.

Despite having completed the questionnaire, which explores an individual's position on the death penalty as well as practical matters prohibiting jury service, Stefaniak said individual interviews are necessary.

"From time to time, people do change their mind," he said. Stefaniak said the entire goal was to assure Isom a fair trial.

Stefaniak and Lake County court administrator Martin Goldman each recognized the sacrifice involved.

Jurors will be sequestered beginning Jan. 7 for a trial estimated to take from three to five weeks. They will be working 10 to 12 hours a day six days a week for pay of $100 a day.

Goldman expressed his appreciation but also forewarned scofflaw jurors, saying noncompliant jurors will be taken to task.

Court records show several jurors called for service in the Isom trial have been found in contempt of court and fined, one as much as $500.

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