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12 jurors selected for Sheley trial; 4 alternates needed

Eight women and four men have so far been accepted

ROCK ISLAND – Twelve jurors have been selected to hear evidence in the third Illinois murder trial of Nicholas Sheley – eight women and four men.

That's the jury. Now the court needs four alternates who can take a seat on the panel if a juror must be excused, which sometimes happens during a long trial.

The group of four approved Thursday, all women, includes a retired social worker, a custodian at Augustana College, a sales associate and new mom, and a teacher at Rock Island High School.

Jury selection will continue this morning in an effort to choose the four alternates. During the selection of alternates, both the prosecution and defense will be granted an additional peremptory challenge for each alternate.

Thursday morning began with defense attorney Jeremy Karlin filing two motions. One asked for a mistrial and to move the trial to another county, and the other asked for more peremptory challenges to dismiss prospective jurors without arguing cause.

Karlin started Thursday with only one peremptory charge remaining; he finished with none.

His argument in the first motion was that the pool of jurors in Rock Island County had been prejudiced by publicity about the charges against Sheley.

"In the last 6 years, every conceivable media outlet with the potential of influencing the potential jury pool in Rock Island County has created such a steady drum beat of public information such that it is impossible for jurors not to have heard information about this case," he wrote.

He further argued that since so many of the prospective jurors had indicated that they had already formed opinions about Sheley's guilt, the move to Rock Island County from Whiteside County was a mistake.

Karlin suggested a destination farther away: Rockford or Decatur, perhaps, he said.

Judge Jeffrey O'Connor denied both motions.

By the end of the day, attorneys had questioned almost 70 prospective jurors over the past 4 days.

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

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

In 2013, O'Connor granted a request by Karlin, to move the trial outside Whiteside County because of extensive media coverage of the case.

Even with the move, most prospective jurors who have been questioned 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 also 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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