ROCK ISLAND – Selecting a jury has gone slowly enough that the third Illinois murder trial of Nicholas Sheley now will start no earlier than Monday afternoon.
Two alternate jurors were picked Friday, the fifth day of selection in Rock Island County court. Both alternates are women, one works at an East Moline junior high school, the other for the Rock Island Parks and Recreation Department.
The selection of the 12-person jury was completed Thursday.
The number of remaining alternates yet to be selected is not clear. Judge Jeffrey O’Connor said Friday morning that he wants only enough alternates “to ensure this case will be tried once,” but declined to state a specific amount.
Previously, members of both the defense and prosecution had said they expected four alternates to be selected.
Concerns about prospective jurors discussing the case have been raised a few times in the past few days. It became an issue again Friday.
A man questioned during the afternoon noted that some prospective jurors had been discussing the case briefly before being told not to by O’Conno. The man testified that one person mentioned that he had heard Sheley’s trial was about to begin, and he hoped that wasn’t what they’d been summoned for.
Another person involved in that conversation, it turns out, was someone who had already been selected to serve on the jury – a heavy machine operator.
Attorneys decided to read over his testimony again this weekend and discuss the matter with him Monday to see if he should still be allowed to serve.
As Sheley entered the courtroom Friday morning, carrying an envelope and notepads, he was escorted, as usual, by a number of armed guards. When he enters the room on most days, he silently takes his seat at the defense table. Friday, however, started a little differently.
“So you’d only need 5 minutes to kill me, huh?” he yelled at Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward. “It would only take you 5 minutes to kill me? What are you waiting for, huh?”
Once things settled down, Sheley told O’Connor that he was referring to a comment made by Elward toward him, though it’s unclear what that comment was.
Elward brushed off Sheley’s words and denied saying anything.
Questioning of prospective alternate jurors began minutes later. Attorneys have questioned more than 80 potential jurors in 5 days.
Most of the people questioned were well aware 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, 34, of Sterling, 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 was never recovered, autopsy results have indicated that the four were beaten with a hammer.
Sheley already 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.