MORRISON – Twice-convicted killer Nicholas T. Sheley wants to move his next murder trial out of Whiteside County.
This week, his attorney, Jeremy Karlin, filed a request for a change of venue, contending pretrial publicity and “community outrage” would taint the jury pool and prevent Sheley from getting a fair trial. Sheley is accused of murdering four people in a Rock Falls apartment in late June 2008.
Change-of-venue requests were denied for Sheley’s two previous trials.
Sheley, 33, of Sterling, is tentatively set to stand trial June 3 in the deaths of Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old-son Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25.
In January, Sheley was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the bludgeoning death of Russell Reed, 93, of rural Sterling.
Sheley is accused of 15 counts of first-degree murder in the Rock Falls case.
On Thursday, Karlin filed a motion to move the trial, saying news coverage of the case had been “highly prejudicial” to his client’s chances of a fair trial. He noted the last case was conducted under new rules allowing photos and video to be taken of the pretrial and trial proceedings.
“The potential jury pool of Whiteside County has been exposed to a barrage of highly prejudicial material that includes inflammatory, inaccurate and inadmissible material,” Karlin wrote in his request.
No matter “how sincerely people state that they can put everything that they have heard and seen aside to decide this case solely on the evidence heard in court,” Karlin said, the circumstances don’t justify putting Sheley in the hands of a jury subjected to the prejudicial media coverage.
During jury selection for the last Whiteside County trial, Karlin said, the “great majority” of potential jurors were able to recite the accusation that a child had been murdered.
“In essence, the community is interested in this case; not in that it just pays attention, but community members appear to have some type of emotional stake,” Karlin wrote.
He cited an Illinois Supreme Court ruling from 1954 about the effects of newspaper coverage. It would not be “unnatural” for a person who reads a “prejudicial” news story about a defendant to want to see that person severely punished.
“It would be in accord with human experience that, try as they might, such emotions would linger in the consciousness of the most honest juror and tempt him to disregard the fundamental requirement of a fair trial and resolve any doubts that he might have against the defendant,” the court said.
To bolster his argument for moving the trial, Karlin has subpoenaed all of Sauk Valley Media’s coverage of the Sheley case since September, which would include his trial and sentencing.
Sheley earlier had been sentenced to life without parole in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg. Sheley has appealed that sentence.
In the Rock Falls case, Sheley’s next pretrial hearing is set for March 22, when the request for change of venue is expected to be considered.