MORRISON – Nicholas T. Sheley's murder trial has been handed over to the jury to begin deliberations.
After more than 2 hours of closing arguments from both sides this morning, the jury got the case at 12:39 p.m.
Sheley, 33, is charged with eight counts of first-degree murder and one count each of home invasion and residential burglary in the death of Russell Reed, 93, of rural Sterling.
In his closing arguments, Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry outlined the "overwhelming" evidence he says proves that Sheley killed Reed in his Blue Goose Road home.
On June 23, 2008, Sheley had a "one track mind" to get crack cocaine, Atterberry said.
That led him to "brutally and savagely" kill Reed in his kitchen sometime around dusk and steal his checkbook and wallet, he said.
Atterberry said the evidence also shows that Sheley dragged Reed's bloody body through the house, out to the garage, and into the trunk of his own 2003 Buick Century.
The Buick, with Reed's body in the trunk, was found 3 days later backed all the way into the driveway of a home owned by Jenna Henson, his brother's former girlfriend.
Witnesses testified last week that Sheley was driving the Buick that night and had blood on his shorts and T-shirt.
When asked by a Sterling couple about the blood, Sheley joked, that "I just got done killing somebody," then laughed and said he had been gutting fish.
“We all know that the blood didn't come from gutting fish,” Atterberry said. “He got all that blood on him when he beat poor Mr. Reed to death.”
A cigarette butt with Sheley's DNA was found in Reed's kitchen, and his green 1996 Cadillac was found hidden behind a corn crib on Reed's property.
A desperate Sheley stole a white Lincoln Continental on June 26 – the day Reed was found – and led Dixon and Lee County police on a high-speed chase that ended in a field near Harmon.
When deputies approached the car, Sheley was gone.
Defense attorney Jeremy Karlin attacked the DNA and fingerprint evidence in the case, saying that there was no scientific evidence to back up its validity.
He also talked about the “cast of characters” which he said were perjurers, drug dealers, felons, and thieves, who would testify to anything to support prosecutors' theory in order to help themselves out in their own criminal cases.
Specifically, he pointed to Sheley's wife, Holly, whom he called a “habitual liar” providing a “Swiss Army Knife” of the prosecution.
Holly Sheley testified last week that she and her husband argued over his drinking on June 23, 2008. However, she told a grand jury in July 2008 that they had a disagreement over who would move their things into a new home and who would watch their kids.
Sheley, wearing an oversized, wrinkled white t-shirt, jotted down notes occasionally during closing arguments.
Prosecutors say Reed was the first of eight people Sheley killed during a drug- and alcohol-fueled two-state killing spree in late June 2008.
Sheley, 33, also is charged in the deaths of a child and three adults in Rock Falls and an Arkansas couple in Festus, Mo.
He is serving life without parole in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg.
A Knox County jury deliberated less than an hour before rendering a verdict in that trial.