CROWN POINT | A Lake County jury took less than two hours Friday to sentence convicted murderer Kevin Isom to death.
Lake Criminal Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr., set Isom's formal sentencing for March 8.
Isom was convicted Tuesday of three counts of murder and three counts of criminal recklessness in connection with the events of Aug. 6-7, 2007, during which he killed his wife and two stepchildren, later firing on responding officers.
Found dead in the family's Miller apartment in Gary were Cassandra Isom, 40, and the stepchildren Isom had helped rear during the couple's 12-year marriage -- Michael Moore, 16, and Ci'Andria Cole, 13.
Each had suffered a shotgun blast and other multiple wounds tied to two handguns Isom admitted owning.
Jurors also found Isom guilty of three counts of criminal recklessness for shooting at responding officers during a subsequent standoff with police. Jurors were not charged with sentencing Isom on the three felonies. Sentencing on those counts will be imposed by Stefaniak. Each carries a sentence between six months and three years in prison.
Jurors, however, had the sole responsibility for determining the sentence on the three murder counts. Their options had included the death penalty, life without parole or a specific number of years to be imposed by Stefaniak.
Because of the possibility of the death penalty or life without parole, the trial was conducted over five weeks in two phases: the first phase to determine Isom's guilt and the second to determine his sentence.
The trial began Jan. 7.
The sentencing phase began Wednesday, the morning after Isom's conviction.
Jurors heard family members testify about Isom's background and character.
The grandson of an Arkansas sharecropper, Isom was reared primarily by his mother, Lula Isom, and his grandmother, Julia Isom. Also involved were numerous aunts, the sisters of Lula Isom, one of seven siblings.
That Isom was brought up primarily by women without the presence of a male role model was one of more than 30 mitigating factors jurors were asked to consider.
The others included his childhood in a gang-ridden Chicago housing project with all its associated risks before moving to Gary with his mother and a cousin.
By not only the family's accounts but also those of a variety of expert witnesses, Isom thrived regardless of the negative influences, the first male in his family to graduate from high school.
He held a variety of jobs as a security guard for some 15 years, mostly unsatisfactory to Isom, until landing a job where he found steady employment for four years.
Isom lost that job a month before the shootings. The accompanying strains in Isom's marriage provided motives for prosecutors throughout the trial as possible causes for the shootings.
Experts testified Isom suffered extreme emotional disturbance throughout his life and after the death of his family, so severe multiple experts testified Isom's claims to not remembering the shootings were valid.
Stefaniak revealed Wednesday a plea agreement for Isom was never viable specifically because Isom couldn't remember anything, so could not admit to any facts.
Forensic psychiatrist George Parker returned to the stand Wednesday for the second time during the trial, saying, "This is to him a mystery."
There had been no history of domestic violence.
Parker said Isom's symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome had abated over the years but he suffered from dis-associative amnesia.
Psychologist James Garbarino, of Loyola University Chicago, testified to the effects of violence on children and adolescents, saying the consequences can include difficulty in processing information, problems in school, emotional disconnection and the brain re-shaping itself.
Responses may differ, however, depending on the child's support system and temperament.
Closing arguments sum up two alternatives
As they did during trial, the prosecution and defense presented closing arguments at the sentencing.
Defense attorney Casey McCloskey told jurors the defense was not trying to excuse or justify Isom's actions but to explore the "why."
McCloskey urged jurors to ask themselves the key question of what happened that night to lead to the deaths.
McCloskey told jurors expert testimony showed Isom had suffered significant limitations in cognitive development.
"It happened over time, but it had been building," McCloskey said.
"What's clear is he suffered from extreme emotional disturbance," he said. "This is someone who locked himself in a room over the death of a family member."
McCloskey asked jurors for a sentence of a set number of years.
"He's 47 years old," McCloskey said. "He's not going home. The question is, how much is enough."
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Urbanski said the defense made much of the question of what happened.
"There's no dispute to what happened," he said.
Urbanski said Isom slaughtered his family.
"The facts speak for themselves," he said.
Urbanski argued Isom had good family support and grew up to be a solid, unremarkable guy of average intelligence, achieving educational goals not shared by other family members.
Urbanski said the defense's own witnesses may have revealed the tipping point.
"(Isom) made slow, deliberate decisions," Urbanski said, arguing when Isom failed as the protector and provider he had always been, he resorted to the deliberate, conscious decision to eliminate his family.