Convicted killer appeals death penalty
By Teresa Auch Schultz email@example.com May 29, 2014 11:38AM
Kevin Isom. | Provided Photo~Sun-Times Media
Indiana Death Row, 2014
Kevin Isom, Gary
William C. Gibson, New Albany
Michael D. Overstreet, Franklin
Wayne Kubsch, Mishawaka
Tommy Ray Pruitt, Morgan County
Fredrick Michael Baer, Madison County
Jeffrey Weishei, Evansville
Joseph Corcoran, Allen County
Roy Lee Ward, Dale
Paul McManus, LaPorte
Benjamin Ritchie, Beech Grove
Eric D. Holmes, Marion County
John Stephenson, Yankeetown
Updated: July 1, 2014 6:12AM
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday as to whether Kevin Isom, a Gary man convicted of killing his wife and two stepchildren, should be put to death.
A Lake County jury voted in favor of the death penalty in 2013 after they found Isom guilty of killing his wife, Casaandra Isom, and her two children, Michael Moore and Ci’Andria Cole, in August 2007 in their Gary home. Evidence showed that Isom also shot at responding police officers.
His attorney, Mark Bates, focused on two issues Thursday, including whether a juror should have been allowed to ask a witness, one of Isom’s wife’s family members, during Isom’s penalty phase whether she had forgiven Isom.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. denied the question during the trial, but Bates argued that the answer, although unknown, could have changed the jury’s vote in favor of the death penalty.
Under questioning by the five Supreme Court justices, Bates admitted that Isom’s trial lawyers didn’t want to pursue the question and thought it would be “opening a can of worms.”
“I believe that it was a very important issue to explore,” he said.
Justice Steven David quizzed Bates on how the right for jurors to ask questions could be considered a fundamental right considering that it has been only recently allowed.
Chief Justice Brent Dickson noted that the juror’s question could have helped the defense if the family member had said she forgave Isom.
Kelly Miklos, the attorney for the state, argued that Stefaniak was within his right to deny the juror’s question, adding that all juror questions must be vetted by the judge and attorneys first.
“It is not a free-for-all,” she said.
However, Dickson took issue with her argument that one witness’ feelings toward the death penalty should not decide whether it is granted, saying the question was about forgiveness, not the witness’ view on the death penalty.
“We have said the system of justice works best when jurors are allowed to ask questions,” Dickson said.
Bates also argued that Isom’s death penalty should be revoked because of what he called misconduct by the prosecutor, David Urbanski, during closing arguments of the penalty phase.
Bates argued that prosecutors must focus only on the aggravating factors of the crime, which in this case was that Isom killed three people. Bates claimed that Urbanski went too far by giving details of their wounds and making statements about how the reward for one of Isom’s stepchildren, Ci’Andria Cole, coming home was to be killed.
“I think (the state) crossed a line,” he argued.
David said he had a hard time seeing those comments as being misconduct. Justice Loretta Rush noted cases, including one from Lake County, where a prosecutor made inappropriate comments during closing arguments but said those comments went further — such as when a prosecutor told the jury to ignore mitigating factors that they must actually consider.
“We don’t have that here, do we?” she asked Bates.
Bates argued that although Urbanski’s comments didn’t go as far as those, they still created a fundamental error in Isom’s case.
Miklos responded by saying that the arguments were tailored to both the aggravating and mitigating factors and that the defense never objected to the arguments during the trial.
Dickson expressed concern, however, saying he was “troubled” by her argument that the details of how the victims died were relevant to the fact that Isom killed three people.
Miklos argued that the details, which showed Isom’s methodical approach to killing his family, raised doubt about defense’s contention that Isom was irrational at the time of the killings.