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8 jurors selected so far for Sheley trial

8 more needed before murder trial begins

Judge Jeffrey O'Connor
Judge Jeffrey O'Connor

ROCK ISLAND – With the selection of four jurors Wednesday, eight people have been approved to serve during the upcoming murder trial of Nicholas Sheley – four women and four men.

Those accepted Wednesday included three men and one woman: a welding supervisor at Rock Island Arsenal, a retired postal worker, a quality assurance worker, and a heavy equipment operator.

Attorneys will need to approve eight more jurors, including four alternates, before the trial can start. Since Monday, 56 people have been questioned.

Sheley, 34, of Sterling, is standing trial for four deaths in Rock Falls in 2008. The trial was moved to Rock Island County.

Before questioning began this morning, Judge Jeffrey O'Connor quickly denied three requests by Sheley to have his charges dismissed, to get a new judge, and to have the trial continued.

Sheley based his motions largely on his opinion that O'Connor is biased against him, and his skepticism of the way jurors have been selected.

Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward called the motions a ridiculous attempt by Sheley to further delay the trial.

"Just more nonsense," he said.

O'Connor denied the motions immediately after reading them.

"I have personally exercised over 20 cause challenges," O'Connor said. "I defy anybody in this courtroom to name one juror who has fudged an answer in an attempt to stay on this jury. ... I find it not only commendable but gratifying of the candor of these jurors who said they can’t be fair and were still dealt with accordingly.

"So, as Mr. Sheley is staring down, flipping papers he’s not even reading, be it known that so far this array of jurors have been one of the most fair and exceptionally candid I have ever dealt with in my life."

Sheley is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder in the brutal Rock Falls deaths of Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée, Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son, Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25, on June 28, 2008.

Though a murder weapon never was recovered, autopsy results have indicated that the four were beaten repeatedly with a hammer.

O'Connor granted a request by Sheley's attorney, Jeremy Karlin of Galesburg, to move the trial outside of Whiteside County because of extensive media coverage of the case.

Even with the move, most prospective jurors questioned have said they have extensive knowledge of the killings. Of those, a majority have said they would be unable to remain impartial, based on preconceived notions of Sheley's guilt.

Sheley is serving two life sentences for the murders of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, and Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling; and is charged in the deaths of Arkansas couple Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, who were killed in a hotel parking lot in Festus, Missouri.

Prosecutors say Sheley went on a weeklong, drug- and alcohol-fueled killing spree during the summer of 2008.

After this trial is completed, Sheley will head to court in Missouri, where he could face the death penalty.

Follow Sauk Valley Media reporter Christi Warren on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom: @SeaWarren.

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