MORRISON – Russell Reed's family heard the word Tuesday they had been waiting more than 4 years to hear: Guilty.
A Whiteside County jury took just more than 2 hours to find Reed's killer, Nicholas T. Sheley, guilty of first-degree murder, home invasion and residential burglary.
"The gratification is that we were able to obtain justice for the family of Mr. Reed, even though that justice was delayed far longer than we would have liked to have seen it delayed," Whiteside County State's Attorney Gary Spencer said.
A packed courtroom was silent as the jury foreman read the verdict. Sheley, in an oversized, wrinkled T-shirt, showed little reaction.
When he is sentenced Jan. 16, he will face a prison term of life without parole.
After the verdict was read, Reed family members hugged each other outside the courtroom then quickly left the courthouse.
Reed's son and daughter-in-law, Don and Bonnie Reed, have been fixtures at every court hearing.
Sheley's attorney, Jeremy Karlin of Galesburg, declined to comment.
During 6 days of testimony, Sheley declined to take the stand and the defense called no witnesses. The prosecution rested its case Monday after presenting 41 witnesses.
Prosecutors said that on June 23, 2008, Sheley beat Reed to death in the kitchen of the victim's Blue Goose Road home in rural Sterling, dragged him through the house and garage, and stuffed him into the trunk of the victim's 2003 Buick Century.
His body was found 3 days later. The Buick was parked in the driveway of the home of the then-girlfriend of Sheley's brother.
A forensic pathologist testified that Reed had been struck at least 18 times on his face, neck and chest with a blunt object. Prosecutors did not identify a murder weapon.
They said Sheley took Reed's checkbook and wallet, both of which were found near a local funeral home weeks later. He robbed and killed the 93-year-old to get money to feed his crack habit, prosecutors said.
According to testimony, Sheley's DNA was found on a cigarette butt in Reed's kitchen, and his fingerprint was found on a window of the Buick.
"Justice was served today," Whiteside County Sheriff Kelly Wilhelmi said.
"It's terrible that we have to live in a world with the Nick Sheleys," Wilhelmi said. "Every time we can add a conviction to this animal, we are going to make sure that he stays in custody forever."
This is Sheley's second murder conviction. The 33-year-old Sterling man is already serving life without parole after being found guilty in Knox County in September 2011 of bludgeoning Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, on June 28, 2008. He was the second of eight people whom, investigators say, Sheley killed.
Sheley 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.
Spencer was assisted by state Assistant Attorneys General Steve Nate and Michael Atterberry.
The attorney general's office has assisted in all of Sheley's Illinois cases.
"My heart goes out to the family and friends of Russell Reed," Attorney General Lisa Madigan said in a statement. "It is my hope that this verdict brings them some closure and peace of mind in knowing that justice has been served in the senseless murder of their loved one."
Spencer said he believed Tuesday's verdict was a "step on the way" to helping the community heal.
"We have yet another verdict that we intend to achieve," he said.
Branson's father, Dallas Branson, sat through each day of testimony. He said Tuesday's verdict made him confident that there will be a guilty verdict in his son's case.
"The wait is the problem," he said. "We wait and we wait and we wait. We want our justice, too, for our son.
"It's tough every day," Branson said. "You never forget, never."
Randall's sister, Pat Randall of Galesburg, and other family also sat in on some of the trial.
Asked whether the Reed trial made her relive her brother's trial, she said, "You always do.
"Now we can go home and relax again until the next one. We're going to follow him."
Branson said the families had formed a bond over the past few years.
"That support is good," he said. "It's great for your family, I tell ya."