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Sterling man's son, others testify on first day of Sheley trial

MORRISON – Something was amiss at Russell Reed's house on Blue Goose Road on June 26, 2008.

His son, Lyle Reed, 68, of rural Sterling, testified this morning that he went to the farm west of Sterling around 7:30 a.m. to check on his dad, who hadn't been seen in 3 days,

His father's 2003 Buick Century was not in the garage, and he saw blood-like stains on the porch steps, the kitchen door and the kitchen floor, Reed testified.

His dad's glasses and hat, which he never left the house without, were on the kitchen counter, and there was a cigarette butt on the kitchen table, which was unusual because his father didn't smoke, Reed said. He called police.

As police began to search the farm, they found a green 1996 Cadillac registered to Nicholas Sheley, the man prosecutors say killed the elderly farmer.

Lyle Reed was the first of a handful of witnesses to testify on the first day of the 33-year-old Sterling man's trial.

Sheley is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and home invasion and residential burglary in Reed's death. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Reed likely was killed June 23, prosecutors say. His body was found in the trunk of the Buick 3 days later; it was parked in the driveway at 1732 Griswold Ave. in Sterling, where Sheley's brother's girlfriend lived.

Reed died of blunt force injuries to his head, neck, and face, Whiteside County State's Attorney Gary Spencer said in his opening argument.

"In other words, he was beaten to death," Spencer said.

The bulk of his opening laid out the evidence that he says proves Sheley killed Reed. According to Spencer:

Prior to June 23, Reed gave Sheley, his wife, Holly, and his brother Joshua, an old freezer and a farm wagon to be sold for scrap.

The morning of June 23, Sheley and Holly drove from her parents' home in Mount Morris to Rockford to get a $1,000 title loan on the Cadillac. The money was supposed to be used to set them up in their own home.

On the way home, Holly "reluctantly" bought her husband alcohol. They fought about it when they got home 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 told them he "just got done killing someone."

Then he said he was gutting fish. He asked them where he could cash a check, they sent him to a local gas station.

Weeks after Reed's death, a nursing home worker found his wallet and checkbook under a pile of sticks behind the nursing home, which is between the acquaintances' house and the gas station.

Reed's badly decomposed body was found June 26 in the trunk of the Buick, Spencer said.

Defense attorney Jeremy Karlin told jurors that prosecutors will present "irrelevant and untrustworthy" testimony from a number of witnesses with criminal histories.

The more sensational the charges, the easier it is to get a conviction because juries tend to be more emotional in such cases, Karlin said, reminding jurors that Sheley is innocent until proven guilty.

Before opening arguments began, Judge F. Michael Meersman denied Karlin's motions to declare a mistrial and to move the trial out of Whiteside County.

Pick up Tuesday's Daily Gazette and Telegraph for the full story.

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