Kenneth Isom

Death row inmate Kenneth Isom, convicted in the April 2001 stabbing and bludgeoning death of a Drew County man and the rape and attempted murder of the man’s elderly caretaker, is currently hospitalized with serious medical issues, Arkansas Department of Correction public affairs director Shae Wilson confirmed today.

Wilson said Isom was taken Wednesday to an undisclosed hospital, suffering from what she could only say were “serious medical issues”, but has since been transferred to a prison hospital at the Ouachita River Correctional Unit in Malvern.

A Drew County jury in December 2001 sentenced Isom, then 34, to death, plus 100 years and two life sentences, in the murder of 79-year-old William Burton, the rape and attempted murder of Burton’s 72-year-old caretaker, and for aggravated robbery and residential burglary.

Isom went to Burton’s home on April 2, 2001 and demanded money. The elderly woman who was in the home taking care of Burton following his hip replacement surgery told Isom to take what he wanted, according to testimony in Isom’s 2001 trial.

“But that wasn’t enough,” 10th Judicial District Prosecutor Thomas Deen told the jury.

Isom raped the 72-year-old woman and forced her to perform sexual acts upon him in front of Burton and later beat Burton with a lamp and stabbed him with scissors.

When the woman complained about the pain, she said Isom told her, “It’s going to be worse than this before the night’s over.”

Later, Isom took the woman into a bedroom, beat her, choked her, knocked her unconscious, and left her for dead. She was discovered 13 hours later.

“Many times we have to rely on circumstantial evidence but we have far more than circumstantial evidence,” Deen told the jury. “We have someone who survived and she’s here to tell you about it.”

The woman picked Isom from a photo lineup and pointed to him in the court room, identifying Isom as her assailant.

In addition to the woman’s eyewitness account of the crimes, Deen said DNA evidence indicates there is a one in 57 million chance that another male of the black race is the man who raped the woman.

Isom’s attorneys argued at trial that it was a case of mistaken identity.

The DNA results exclude all but one in 57 million people, but who is to say that three or four who are not excluded don’t live in Drew County, Isom’s attorney told the jury.

Isom subsequently appealed the conviction to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in a 2004 ruling, said there was an abundance of evidence to support Isom’s conviction.

“(The rape victim) identified him as her attacker in the attempted murder and rapes and as the person who was physically abusing Mr. Burton,” the state Supreme Court said. “She further testified that Mr. Isom demanded and received money and her ring, using the threat of the broken scissors.

“Her testimony is also sufficient to support a burglary conviction in that she stated that he pushed his way into Mr. Burton’s trailer home and proceeded to commit rape and aggravated robbery,” the court said. “And finally, her in-court identification of Mr. Isom, as well as (the hair found on her body) connected him to the rape and placed him at the scene where Mr. Burton was murdered.

“While (the woman) didn’t see Mr. Isom stab Mr. Burton with the scissors or beat him with a lamp, she saw Mr. Isom with the scissors standing on Mr. Burton’s head and then physically lying on top of him. She also heard his threats. She was then beaten, knocked unconscious, and choked by Mr. Isom. Mr. Burton’s body was discovered the next morning, and his death was caused by multiple sharp and blunt force injuries. We conclude that there was more than sufficient evidence, direct and circumstantial, that Mr. Isom caused the death of Mr. Burton in the course of committing several felonies under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life,” the Arkansas Supreme Court said.

Following the Supreme Court’s 2004 ruling, Isom filed post-conviction petitions claiming that his trial attorney was ineffective and requesting additional DNA testing of two male cousins he claimed were suspects in the crimes.

Circuit Judge Sam Pope denied both petitions, although Isom was allowed re-testing of his own DNA against the hair sample recovered from the rape victim. The re-testing did not exclude Isom as being a contributor of the sample.

Isom appealed those rulings to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which issued a December 2010 opinion denying the appeals and exhausting Isom’s appeals in state courts.

He has since appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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