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No gag rule on other murders

Judge sides with prosecution’s evidence request

Convicted murderer Nick Sheley appeared in Whiteside County court Thursday afternoon.
Convicted murderer Nick Sheley appeared in Whiteside County court Thursday afternoon.

MORRISON – The attorney for twice-convicted murderer Nicholas T. Sheley on Thursday asked a judge to ban any mention of the other killings at Sheley’s next murder trial in October.

A prosecutor objected, saying much of the evidence is intertwined.

For the most part, the judge sided with the state.

Sheley, 33, is set to stand trial Oct. 15 in the deaths of Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son, Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25, who were killed in Rock Falls 5 years ago.

At Thursday’s hearing, Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward asked the judge to allow references to the other murders. The state, he said, has evidence with DNA from other murder cases.

The DNA from other people may lead the jury to believe the state has other suspects when that isn’t the case, Elward said. For instance, he said, the state has DNA evidence linked to the Rock Falls victims found in a dumpster in the Missouri town where Sheley is accused of killing two other people.

“The jury will speculate, and it’s not fair for the defendant to benefit in a way that will mislead the jury,” Elward told Judge Jeffrey O’Connor.

If all the murders happened in one county, Elward said, they would have been tried together because they are “inexorably” linked.

Sheley’s attorney, Jeremy Karlin, said the court should focus on the deaths in Rock Falls, not the others. If a shirt in evidence has Sheley’s DNA, that’s adequate for the court’s purposes, without bringing up the other slayings, he said.

“We shouldn’t have a mini-trial on the other murders,” he said.

Elward responded that the case involved a “complicated set of facts.”

“We didn’t make it complicated,” he said. “The defendant did.”

The judge mostly agreed with the state’s arguments, although he said he was inclined to exclude evidence from the bludgeoning death of Russell Reed, 93, of rural Sterling. In January, Sheley was sentenced to life in prison without parole for that murder.

Last year, Sheley was sentenced to life without parole in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg. He has appealed that sentence.

All the killings, including two in Missouri, happened in late June 2008.

Also at Thursday’s hearing, Judge O’Connor allowed the state’s request to put a waist belt around Sheley during his October trial.

Karlin argued that Sheley behaved well in his last two trials, even when things didn’t go his way. Restraints, he said, would prejudice the jury against his client.

Elward urged the court to allow additional security measures, saying Sheley would become more desperate as he gets closer to his trial in Missouri, where the death penalty is allowed.

The judge said a waist belt would be invisible to the jury. Besides, he said, a jury would expect that authorities would take extra security measures against someone accused of such serious crimes.

“This is not a traffic case,” he said.

O’Connor also decided to allow cameras during pretrial hearings and the trial. In April, the judge moved the trial to Rock Island County after the defense contended TV coverage at the first Whiteside County trial tainted the local jury pool.

As he had before, Karlin objected to the cameras. He also objected to Rock Island County as the site of the trial, saying it was the same media market as Whiteside County.

The judge said he chose Rock Island County because it’s close and has a much bigger jury pool than Whiteside County.

If problems are encountered in Rock Island County, the judge said he would consider Karlin’s request to move the trial farther away.

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