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Sheley case inches forward

Prosecutors, defense prepare for trial in Rock Falls homicides

Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukval)
Former Whiteside County State's Attorney Gary Spencer reads a victim impact statement from Russell Reed's granddaughter during the sentencing Wednesday of Reed's killer, Nicholas Sheley. Spencer has retired, so the next trial for Sheley in Whiteside County will be prosecuted by Trish Joyce, who was elected in November and took office last month.

ROCK FALLS – With a second life sentence handed down to Nicholas T. Sheley this week, prosecutors now will turn their attention to trying him in the deaths of four Rock Falls people.

The 33-year-old Sterling man is tentatively set to be tried June 3 for the deaths of Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old Dayan Blake; and Kenneth Ulve, 25.

That will be the third of four trials Sheley will face in connection with what prosecutors and police say was a drug- and alcohol-fueled, two-state killing spree in late June 2008.

With a trial date looming, prosecutors and the defense attorney tell Sauk Valley Media that they are working on pretrial motions and other issues to get the case ready to go.

Eight deaths

Sheley was sentenced Wednesday to life without parole for the murder of Russell Reed, 93, of rural Sterling.

Sheley, desperate for money to buy crack cocaine, bludgeoned Reed to death in his kitchen, stole his wallet and checkbook, and placed him in the trunk of his own 2003 Buick Century.

The Buick with Reed in the trunk was found 3 days later.

On June 28, 2008, Sheley drove to Galesburg in a stolen truck and killed Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, at a local gas station. He dumped his body behind a grocery store and left with Randall's wallet and pickup truck.

Later that night, Sheley drove to Rock Falls and killed the four in their apartment before heading to St. Louis and Festus, Mo., where he killed an Arkansas couple on June 29, according to police.

Sheley was arrested July 1, 2008, in Granite City

Sheley also is serving life without parole for Randall's murder after being convicted in 2011 by a Knox County jury.

Galesburg attorney Jeremy Karlin, who has represented Sheley in all his Illinois cases, said he will file a motion within 2 weeks to reconsider the sentence in the Reed case, followed by a notice to appeal.

The appeal will be handled by an appellate defender.

Moving forward

Whiteside County State's Attorney Trish Joyce will try Sheley's second Whiteside County case with assistance from the state attorney general's office, which has been involved in all the Illinois cases.

Joyce said she will file motions to admit evidence of other crimes; similar motions have been filed in Sheley's other cases.

Joyce said she will be "devoting a large amount of time" to prepare for the case and anticipates tapping her assistants to handle her normal caseload.

The case could be ready for trial in June, Joyce said, but that depends on the attorneys' and judge's schedules, as well as pretrial issues that need to be dealt with.

"The evidence that we intend to present in these cases has already been disclosed to the defense, because these cases have been so intertwined," she said. "I think the defense has a good handle on the facts of the case, as does the prosecution."

The fact that cases are so intertwined may keep the case from being tried as quickly, Karlin said.

"I think the nature of evidence in this case is such that it is going to take longer than the trial we just had," Karlin said. "Again, that depends in large part on what the state does. There's more interconnectivity, arguably, of some of these crimes and crime scenes."

Karlin said he will file a motion to move the next trial out of Whiteside County because of the extraordinary amount of media coverage so far and the fact that his client spent much of his life in this area.

Karlin unsuccessfully filed similar motions in the Reed and Randall cases. 

"Given the nature of the charges, given the fact that we've now had one trial, it's less likely that it will be possible to obtain a fair jury in Whiteside," Karlin said. 

Last year, the Illinois Supreme Court started a pilot program to allow the media to have still and video cameras inside the courtroom during criminal proceedings.

The 14th Judicial Circuit – which includes Whiteside – was the first circuit to be approved for the program. The Reed trial that began in late October was the first high-profile test of the new program.

Joyce also acknowledged that it may be difficult to find a jury for the Rock Falls case.

"I think it's more likely than not that it will be moved," Joyce said. "However, just hearing about [the case] doesn't necessarily mean you're prejudiced."

Karlin also expects to file motions to bar evidence of other crime evidence and prior bad acts, as well as a motion to limit jurors from seeing photographs of the autopsy and crime scene, which he said are "particularly gruesome."

"We need to make sure the jury is made aware of the essential facts of the case, but not in such a manner that they are unduly prejudiced," Karlin said.

Many in the community wonder why prosecutors will spend even more taxpayers' money to try Sheley again since he already is serving life without parole.

"How do you tell the family of these four victims that their case is not worth trying?" Joyce told reporters after the sentencing hearing Wednesday. "How do you handle the case in the event that these convictions would be overturned on appeal?"

Joyce said she sympathizes because she, too, is a taxpayer.

"But, the blame is not upon these victims; the blame is not upon our office," she said. "The blame is upon Mr. Sheley."

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