Justices affirm denial of PCR for Gary man on death row

The Indiana Supreme Court has denied a final request for relief sought by a man facing the death penalty for the murder of his wife and stepchildren nearly 15 years ago.

Kevin Charles Isom in 2007 was accused of brutally killing his wife, Cassandra Isom, and her teenage children, 13-year-old daughter Ci’Andria Cole and 16-year-old son Michael Moore. Despite maintaining his innocence, Isom was convicted and sentenced to death row.

After the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and death sentence on direct appeal, Isom sought post-conviction relief, raising many challenges to the effectiveness of his trial and appellate counsel. Although he refused to verify his petition per requirements of the post-conviction rules, the justices allowed him to proceed.

But following lengthy proceedings that led to the post-conviction court’s denial of Isom’s petition, the Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Wednesday in a 46-page decision.

The high court, with Justice Geoffrey Slaughter penning the decision in response to Isom’s appeal, considered the claims that Isom’s trial and appellate counsel were ineffective, as well as “five allegedly erroneous rulings of the post-conviction court.”

“Because Isom waives his claims, or fails to meet his burden, or both, we affirm,” Slaughter concluded.

As to the effectiveness of his trial counsel, the justices disagreed with Isom’s contentions that his trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective “at all phases of Isom’s trial,” including during jury selection and at the guilt and penalty phases.

“Even had Isom carried his burden and proved deficient performance, however, ‘[g]enerally, trial errors that do not justify reversal when taken separately also do not justify reversal when taken together.’ Isom does not explain why the trial errors he alleged are exceptions to this general rule. The thrust of his argument seems to be that the alleged errors prevented the jury from hearing certain mitigating evidence and that this missing mitigating evidence calls into question the reliability of the sentencing verdict,” the high court wrote.

“Given that the aggravating factors for each sentence was the brutal murder of two victims — with two of the three victims children — and given that the jury was presented with thirty different mitigators spanning from Isom’s childhood to his mental health as an adult, we see no unreliability in the result,” it wrote.

The justices found similarly for Isom’s claims that his appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to raise fundamental-error challenges on direct appeal concerning instructions 17, 18 and 23.

They concluded Isom did not show that all evidence pointed unerringly to the conclusion that he met Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)’s “especially rigorous standard” for failure-to-raise claims.

“Isom argues that instructions 17 and 18 wrongly prevented the jury from considering his mitigating evidence during sentencing and that instruction 23 unconstitutionally informed the jury that its sentencing decision must be unanimous. But, as we held above … Isom did not make either showing. Thus, he cannot establish significant, obvious, or evident errors on the face of the record. This shortcoming alone provides an adequate basis for affirming the post-conviction court’s denial of relief on these grounds,” the high court wrote.

Justices next addressed Isom’s several free-standing challenges to the post-conviction court’s rulings, including denying Isom’s renewed motion for a competency hearing, his discovery request for the state’s lethal injection protocol and finding his execution-validity challenge waived, and Isom’s discovery request for juror contact information and finding that issue waived.

It also reviewed Isom’s argument that the post-conviction court erred in limiting the testimony of two expert witnesses and in finding Isom’s challenge to his petition’s filing date waived.

Ultimately, it concluded that because Isom did not establish that the post-conviction court erred, he wasn’t entitled to relief on any of the challenges.

The case is Kevin Charles Isom v. State of Indiana, 45S00-1508-PD-508.

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