MORRISON – A missing-person report and a trail of blood through Russell Reed’s home on June 26, 2008, led to two discoveries.
The first was a green 1996 Cadillac, registered to Nicholas Sheley, that was parked behind a corn crib on Reed’s home on Blue Goose Road.
The second was Reed’s tan 2003 Buick Century, parked in a driveway at 1732 Griswold Ave. in Sterling. That was the home of Jenna Henson, the girlfriend of Sheley’s brother.
Blue and green flies buzzed around the interior of the car. In the trunk was Reed’s badly decomposed body. It appeared he had been there at least 3 days, prosecutors say.
Much of the testimony on the first day of Sheley’s murder trial focused on the last day Reed was seen alive and the state of his home after his sons reported him missing.
Sheley is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder, home invasion, and residential burglary in Reed’s death. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
He already is serving life without parole for murdering Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg. He also is charged in the deaths of Brock Branson, 29, Branson’s fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20, her 2-year-old son, Dayan, and Kenneth Ulve, 25, all of Rock Falls; and Arkansas couple Jill and Tom Estes, who were killed in Festus, Mo.
Reed’s son, Lyle, 68, of rural Sterling, testified Monday that he last saw his father between 2 and 3 p.m. on June 23, 2008, the day that prosecutors believe Reed was killed.
Lyle Reed testified that he was mowing ditches on his property and waved at his father as he drove by. His father was wearing a blue plaid shirt that he often wore, Lyle Reed testified.
He testified that he stopped by his father’s house the next day and noticed that the Buick was missing. He didn’t think anything of it, he said, because his dad usually went to town for breakfast at a local restaurant.
Lyle Reed testified that he stopped by the house again about 7:30 a.m. June 26 and saw that his father’s Buick still wasn’t there. But he noticed blood-like stains on the back porch steps, kitchen door and kitchen floor.
Reed’s glasses and hat, which he never left behind at the house, were on the kitchen counter, Lyle Reed testified.
A cigarette butt was found on the kitchen table. Lyle Reed testified that he thought that was unusual because his father didn’t smoke.
Prosecutors say Sheley’s DNA was on the cigarette.
Lyle Reed testified that he and his brother, Don, called CGH Medical Center to see whether their father was there. After the hospital staff said Reed wasn’t there, the son called 911.
In his opening arguments Monday, Whiteside County State’s Attorney Gary Spencer took jurors through the evidence that, he says, links Sheley to Reed’s murder.
According to Spencer:
Reed had previously given Sheley, his wife Holly and his brother Joshua, an old freezer and a farm wagon to sell for scrap.
The morning of June 23, Sheley and Holly, 34 had driven from her parents’ home in Mount Morris to Rockford to get a $1,000 title loan on his Cadillac. That money was supposed to go toward setting them up in their own home.
On the way home, Holly Sheley “reluctantly” bought her husband alcohol. When they got home, they continued to fight and Sheley took off in the car.
Later that night, Sheley went to the home of acquaintances. Sheley, who had a blood-like stain on his shorts, gave a weird laugh and explained that he had “just got done killing someone.”
He then explained the blood by saying he had been gutting fish. Sheley used cocaine, and when he asked where he could cash a check, he was told to go to a local gas station.
Three weeks after Reed’s death, an employee of a funeral home found Reed’s wallet and checkbook under a pile of sticks behind the funeral home, which is between the gas station and the home of acquaintances where Sheley had visited, Spencer said.
A forensic pathologist ruled that Reed had died from blunt force injuries to his head, neck, and face, Spencer said.
“In other words, he was beaten to death,” Spencer told the jury Monday.
Defense attorney Jeremy Karlin said in his opening that the more sensational the charges, the easier it is to get a conviction because juries tend to be more emotional in murder cases.
He reminded jurors that Sheley is presumed innocent until being proved guilty and that the presumption of innocence stays with him until all evidence is presented.
Karlin also said that prosecutors were going to present “irrelevant and untrustworthy” testimony from a “cast of characters” who have criminal histories who have given inconsistent statements.
The courtroom was full Monday with members of the Reed family, as well as some family members of Randall and Branson.
Multiple reporters also were in the room to cover the long-anticipated trial.
A handful of witnesses testified Monday.
Sheley, dressed in a light blue button-down shirt and khaki pants, jotted down notes and went through papers as the witnesses testified.
Bethe Hughes, a crime scene investigator with the state police, testified that she had photographed Reed’s home after he was reported missing.
Hughes said she had noted a blood trail stretching from the back porch, through the living room, and ending in the kitchen.
Hughes testified that she had found a step stool, soda box, and plastic bag under a window on the south side of the kitchen.
Blood stains were on the plastic bag. More blood was on the wall on a cast-iron leg from a piano stool that was behind the pile.
Hughes testified that it appeared that those items had been moved to conceal something that happened in the house.
Hughes will be back on the stand today.
For more information
- Follow SVM reporter Tara Becker's trial coverage at shawurl.com/sheley or at TaraBecker_SVM on Twitter.
- Watch video from the first day of testimony at saukvalley.com.