(Brookville, Ind.) – The life without the possibility of parole sentence given to “Laurel Five” killer David Ison was not so much a surprise as the statement he made on his way out of the courtroom.
“Life over death,” Ison shouted back as relatives of the five victims told him he should die.
An ironic statement from a man who Indiana State Police detectives say killed five people in cold blood at two homes on Stipps Hill Road in Laurel in western Franklin County on September 25.
Police found Roy Napier, 50; his estranged wife Angela, 47; their two grown children Melissa Napier, 23, and Jacob Napier, 18; and family friend and neighbor Henry X. Smith, 43, shot and beaten to death outside a home across the street. The only survivor of the massacre was Melissa Napier’s four-year-old daughter, who was afterwards found nearly naked wandering in the road by neighbors.
Ison had gotten into a drug dispute with Roy Napier that day. Detectives said Napier raised the price of prescription pills he was selling Ison by $2.
Just days after Franklin County Prosecutor Melvin Wilhelm said he would not seek the death penalty against the 46-year-old in favor of the life in prison sentence, Ison pleaded guilty to all charges February 14.
Ison appeared in an orange jumpsuit and black bulletproof vest at Wednesday morning’s sentencing hearing in Franklin Circuit Court before Judge J. Steven Cox. He appeared unemotional slouching in his chair as his defense attorney and prosecutors reviewed the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
Then, it was time for the surviving relatives of the Napiers to have their say.
“The only hope I have for you is that this is the best day of the rest of your life,” Jama Hess, a cousin of Roy Napier, testified as she fought back tears.
“May God have mercy on your soul, because we don’t,” said Angela Napier’s sister, Theresa Richardson.
Tuesday Richardson, the niece of Roy and Angela and a friend of Smith’s, wanted the court to order that photos of the five victims be displayed in Ison’s prison cell, including a picture of Melissa and her young daughter who witnessed the killings.
“I hope you think of that poor baby who you took away the four most important people of her life. She had to witness what you did,” Richardson sobbed as she told Ison.
In the aftermath of the September murders, the only remaining member of the immediate Napier family is Roy and Angela’s son, Josh Napier. He had to bury his parents and siblings.
“You’ve taken everything from me,” he told Ison during his testimony. “I hope you have a short and miserable life and burn in hell.”
Josh Napier would later state that Ison should have been given worse than the life sentence.
Before Cox announced the life sentence, Ison was given his turn to speak.
“I am sorry and apologize,” he stated, in addition to blaming his drug addiction for driving him to murder.
Ison did not state it directly, but indicated that he thought Melissa Napier’s daughter would have a better life not growing up in the midst of a family caught up in drugs. Family members in the galley cried.
In weighing the circumstances in regards to the sentence, Judge Cox considered that Ison was under the influence of drugs when he gunned down the family. Ison’s defense attorney, Hubert Branstetter, had earlier in the hearing stated that some of the drugs Ison was hooked on were being supplied by Roy Napier.
“But, the presence of drugs can in no way outweigh the aggravating circumstances,” Cox said.
Among those aggravators: Ison had prior convictions for 20 felonies including theft and counterfeiting, and he was on probation at the time of the murders.
Ison will live out his life in prison with the Indiana Department of Corrections.
Following the hearing, family members slowly filed out of the courtroom. Some wanted to vent to reporters. Others wanted no part.
“He’s standing up there laughing like it’s something funny. They should have gave him the death penalty. They should of because he got what he wanted,” Zipporah Napier, niece to Roy and Melissa said. “He wasn’t sorry.”
Relatives said the four-year-old Cierra Mann – daughter of Melissa Napier - is now with her biological father, Lucas Mann. Some relatives said they have not seen her since the funeral. Others said she is in better surroundings now, but still suffers night terrors as a result of witnessing her family’s murder.
What remains to be seen is whether the woman who drove David Ison to the crime will face complicity charges. Amanda Napier – no relation to the victims – was with Ison when police arrested him on State Road 52 in Andersonville a few days after the massacre.
Napier, 32, had been caught up with Ison and a drug problem of her own. She has been charged with Conspiracy to Commit Robbery in Ripley County as she allegedly acted as Ison’s getaway driver in a May 2011 botched robbery at the G.A. Triplett Drug Store in Osgood.
Some people say she is equally responsible for the murders.
“If she can be an accomplice to the robbery in Osgood then she can be an accomplice to the murder here,” Tuesday Richardson told reporters.
Theresa Richardson believes that other heinous crimes could occur in rural Franklin County if the drug problem is not addressed.
“It’s rampant. It’s everywhere. Over half the people I know are on drugs. Good people, and its ruining their lives,” Richardson said.