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Costs soar for defending man in Gary murders

– The soaring costs of defending a Gary man facing the death penalty in the slayings of his wife and two stepchildren could make the case the most expensive to date for Lake County’s taxpayers.

Part of the reason for the ballooning costs in Kevin Isom’s murder trial is the lengthy jury selection process, the Times of Munster reported. The first round ended in a March mistrial when the jury pool was depleted, but the second round of jury selection is scheduled to start Monday.

Isom, 46, is charged with murder in the August 2007 slayings of his wife, Cassandra, 40, and two stepchildren – Michael Moore, 16, and Ci’Andria Cole, 13 – in their Gary apartment. The cost of defending him shifted to taxpayers after the October 2010 death of his private defense counsel.

Indiana Public Defender Commission figures released last week show that Isom’s defense costs totaled $379,356 as of Sept. 19, with $189,678 reimbursed to Lake County.

Death penalty costs eligible for reimbursement are paid back at a 50 percent rate, rather than the typical 40 percent.

Isom’s costs are poised to eclipse the total cost of defending a similar case against Daryl Jeter, who was convicted in 2006 in the 2003 killing of Indiana State Trooper Scott Patrick. In the Jeter case, defense costs totaled $411,907 following his conviction, with $205,954 reimbursed to the county.

Jurors in Jeter’s trial rejected the death penalty, opting for a sentence of life without parole.

Aside from the additional costs posed by Isom’s second round of jury selection, hotel accommodations and food for the 17 jurors are estimated at a conservative $38,000 for a three-week period. Other juror expenses overseen by Lake County court administrator Martin Goldman were not available to The Times.

The Lake County Board of Commissioners has already approved a $20,000 request by the county public defender’s office to contract with an attorney to handle the case backlog of the two attorneys representing Isom.

County officials also are dipping into casino revenues set aside for emergencies to meet the challenge of the enhanced state rules governing death penalty cases.

A 2010 study by the nonpartisan Indiana Legislative Services Agency found that death penalty cases in Indiana cost many times that of a case of life without parole.

That analysis determined the cost to a county for trial and direct appeal in six capital cases averaged $449,887, in contrast to seven life-without-parole cases that averaged $42,658.