ROCK ISLAND – Jury selection begins today in Rock Island County in the trial of twice-convicted murderer Nicholas Sheley.
Once jury selection is over, which Judge Jeffrey O’Connor hopes to have completed by Thursday, the trial will begin. It is expected to last about 10 days.
Sheley, 34, is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder for the June 28, 2008 deaths of Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée, Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son, Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25. Their bodies were found in their Rock Falls apartment 2 days after their deaths.
During a December hearing in Whiteside County court, forensic pathologist Dr. Mark Peters testified that their deaths were caused by a hammer, though a murder weapon was never recovered.
“These injuries were caused by a hammer,” Peters said, referring to a photograph showing Ulve’s skull. “Nothing else caused these three injuries.”
Peters said Ulve suffered at least 11 injuries and died of blunt trauma to the head.
He then went on to discuss the various head injuries – fractures, impact sites, skull fragments, hemorrhaging, cuts, and bruising – seen in autopsy photographs of Branson, Blake, and Dayan.
In March of last year, Sheley’s attorney, Jeremy Karlin, filed a request in Whiteside County for a change of venue, claiming the “highly prejudicial” media coverage and general “community outrage” surrounding the proceedings would taint the Whiteside County jury pool and prevent Sheley from getting a fair trial.
“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 motion.
Sheley’s requests for change of venue in his two previous trials were denied, but in April of last year, O’Connor decided to grant his request.
“It did not make sense to waste time and resources litigating the motion,” Joyce said in an email at that time. “Rock Island County has a much larger pool of potential jurors from which to draw in order to ensure that a fair trial may be had.”
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 crimes.
Prosecutors say Reed was the first of eight people Sheley murdered during a drug- and alcohol-fueled, weeklong killing spree in the summer of 2008.
Desperate for crack cocaine, prosecutors say, Sheley went to Reed’s home on June 23, 2008, beat him to death, took his wallet, and put his body in the trunk of Reed’s own car.
Reed’s body was found 3 days later, still in the car.
Sheley then encountered Randall at a car wash on June 28, 2008, when he bludgeoned him to death, stole his car, and left his body behind a nearby grocery store. Randall was found 2 days later.
Sheley is also charged in the deaths of Arkansas couple Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, who were killed on June 29, 2008 in Festus, Mo. in a hotel parking lot. They were found the next day behind a gas station trash bin about a mile and a half away.
Alone and unarmed, Sheley finally surrendered to Illinois State Police outside of a bar in the St. Louis suburb of Granite City, Ill. on July 1, 2008.
A woman inside the bar tipped off police when she noticed Sheley inside, and when he stepped outside for a cigarette, a plainclothes officer arrested him.