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Judge excludes some murder scene photos

Sheley shows no reaction to evidence for January trial

Published: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013 4:42 p.m. CST
Nicholas T. Sheley

MORRISON – Convicted murderer Nicholas Sheley had a chance Friday to look at photos of a grisly crime scene he is accused of creating. 

He passed.

During a hearing in Whiteside County Court, attorneys and the judge reviewed dozens of photos that prosecutors wanted to show at trial. Next to Sheley was his attorney, Jeremy Karlin, who reviewed the photos on his laptop.

Sheley, 34, looked straight forward.

His trial is set for Jan. 10 in Rock Island County Court. At monthly hearings, attorneys have debated which evidence the jury should be allowed to see and hear. On Friday, Rock Island County Judge Jeffrey O’Connor admitted into evidence about half of the photos.

Sheley, 34, is facing 15 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of four people who were found beaten to death in a Rock Falls apartment 5 years ago: Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son, Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25.

At Friday’s hearing, Karlin argued the overall effect of the photos was “unduly prejudicial” to his client’s case.

“It is not disputed that these people were killed,” he said, contending that showing photos of the bodies would be unnecessary.

O’Connor acknowledged Karlin’s point.

“The presentation of morbid photos just for the sake of presenting morbid photos is not going to happen here,” the judge said.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward, however, argued prosecutors needed to present the photos because they had no eyewitnesses to the murders. The photos, he said, showed the “manner and nature” of the deaths. 

“These are gruesome photographs,” Elward said. “That’s the nature of a quadruple homicide.”

O’Connor then went through the photos – 57 of them.

“I’m not inviting arguments on each picture,” he said.

He admitted 28 photos, saying he was ruling on their shock values, not their “cumulative effect,” which would be determined later.

Sheley already has been convicted of the murders of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, and Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling. He is serving two life sentences without parole for those murders.

Sheley is also charged in the deaths of Arkansas couple Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, who were killed in Festus, Mo.

Sheley’s next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 21.

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