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Selection of jurors down to alternates

Comments get three potential jurors tossed

MORRISON – And then there were three.

That’s the number of alternate jurors still to be chosen before Nicholas T. Sheley can be tried in the beating death of 93-year-old Russell Reed. Jury selection continues today.

By the end of the day Thursday, the third day of jury selection, 12 jurors – eight men and four women – were seated. 

They include a retired highway maintenance worker, a farmer’s wife, a hospital maintenance worker, and a funeral home director. 

A preschool teacher selected Monday was dismissed Thursday after she expressed concerns about finding someone to cover for her at work. She was replaced by a local retail manager.

Sheley, 33, is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, home invasion and residential burglary in Reed’s death.

Prosecutors believe Reed was killed June 23, 2008, in his rural Sterling home on Blue Goose Road. His body was found 3 days later in the trunk of his 2003 Buick Century, parked at the home of Sheley’s brother’s girlfriend.

Sheley also is charged in six other beating deaths and is serving life without parole in the murder of a 65-year-old Galesburg man. All eight were killed in late June 2008.

Since Monday, 60 Whiteside County residents have been questioned about everything from their families and their hobbies to what they’ve read about the case.

The process came to a halt Thursday afternoon after a prospective juror told attorneys and Judge F. Michael Meersman that she heard comments about the case from others in the jury room.

Specifically, she heard someone say it is a waste of time and taxpayer money to try Sheley when he’s already been convicted of murder.

She ultimately was selected to be a juror.

Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said two prospective jurors, both men, admitted making the comments. Wilhelmi said he also talked to the others in the jury pool, some of who said they heard the comments but were not influenced by them.

Another woman said she heard the comments, but already had made up her mind about the case anyway, Wilhelmi said.

Meersman dismissed her, and reprimanded both men. He threatened to find them in contempt and toss them in jail, but dismissed them instead.

“I think you both understand the situation you’ve created,” Meersman told them. “If you don’t, you’re dumber than I thought.”

Sheley’s attorney Jeremy Karlin asked that the entire panel, as well as three jurors already selected before the disclosure, be dismissed. “I think the panel thus far are tainted and that we should dismiss them for cause,” he argued.

Meersman denied the request, saying it appeared to be an isolated incident.

From now on, a deputy will be inside the jury room instead of being stationed outside the door, Wilhelmi said.

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