ROCK ISLAND – On June 28, 2008, Matt Johnson was spending the night at his girlfriend’s apartment. His son was there, too. They were going to have a movie night.
Their neighbors, Brock Branson, Kilynna Blake, and her 2-year-old son, Dayan, had the same idea, and around 9 p.m., they came over to his girlfriend’s apartment to check out their movie collection. Finding nothing they wanted to borrow, they soon left.
Matt’s girlfriend at the time, Chasity Gibbons, was friends with Kilynna. The two would check in on each other; their children would play together. In fact, Chasity had already seen Kilynna a number of times that day before she dropped in that night to borrow a movie.
The night went on. Chasity, Matt, and his son watched a movie or two, Chasity and Matt’s son eventually falling asleep while Matt stayed up.
During his testimony Tuesday morning at Nicholas Sheley’s third Illinois murder trial, Matt testified that about 11 p.m., he heard something: some rustling coming from the porch of Brock and Kilynna’s apartment. He said that later that night, he heard a blood-curdling scream and a series of thumps.
The scream was that of a woman. It was Kilynna, both Matt and Chasity testified. She was saying, “Oh God, don’t!” – and then a pause – “Stop!”
Then more thumps and silence.
Chasity and Matt’s son woke with a start to the sounds.
Anxious, they looked through the peephole in Chasity’s front door. They saw nothing, and so Chasity walked into the hallway that the two apartments shared and knocked on the door to apartment 5. No reply. She called out to them, asking if everything was OK. Still nothing.
Nancy Andrews, who lived directly below apartment 5, testified Tuesday about the thuds and Kilynna’s voice, too. Once the thuds stopped, she remembers hearing the sound of someone scraping a chair across her upstairs neighbors’ porch, and then the flick of a lighter.
Chasity sent a text to Brock’s phone that night, she said. She was concerned. He never texted back.
That concern lasted well into the morning when her brother, Chad Behn, and his girlfriend, Vicki Goss, came over. Chad, too, went to check on the apartment’s occupants, he testified Tuesday. Still no answer.
When asked by defense attorney Jeremy Karlin why no one ever called the police, he replied they thought it was a domestic dispute. Chasity’s answer was much the same. Plus, she said, she didn’t want to seem like a “nosy neighbor.”
Two days later, the bodies of the apartment’s four occupants were found: Brock, 29; Kilynna, 20; Dayan, 2; and Kenneth Ulve, 25 – all brutally beaten to death. An autopsy would later show their wounds were caused by a hammer.
Twelve witnesses in total testified Tuesday. Their stories, in conjunction with the one told by Brock’s parents on Monday, laid out the narrative of the final day anyone saw the victims alive.
Two state police crime scene investigators tried to fill in the gaps in the narrative that no one other than the victims and their attacker could possibly know.
Two cigarette butts found at the base of the bed in Brock, Kilynna, and Dayan’s bedroom; blood-spattered walls and stained carpeting.
Crime scene investigator Bethe Hughes explained a 7-minute video tour of the residence, and then highly graphic still photographs of the victims’ bloody bodies as investigators found them: Kenneth, in his room, his body slumped in a chair; Kilynna, lying partially on her side in a hallway; Brock, facedown not too far from her, his arms entangled in a broom; Kilynna’s son, Dayan, just around the corner, dressed in camouflage pajamas – first a photo of him with his face covered by a blue-and-white blanket, and then a much more gruesome image of him uncovered.
Brock’s parents, Connie and Dallas, left the room before the presentation began.
The silence in the courtroom during the slideshow was palpable; the air, thick and hot from a long day of questioning and a completely packed courtroom.
Through all of it, Sheley never looked at the screen to his left, instead staring straight ahead, rocking in his chair and occasionally clenching his jaw and rubbing his forehead.
He is charged with 15 counts of first-degree murder in the the four Rock Falls deaths, and is already serving two life sentences for the murders of Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling, and Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg, who prosecutors say he killed during a weeklong, drug-and-alcohol-fueled killing spree during the summer of 2008.
Sheley is also charged in the deaths of Arkansas couple Jill and Tom Estes, both 54, who were killed on June 29 in a hotel parking lot in Festus, Missouri.
After this trial is completed, Sheley will head to court there, where he could face the death penalty.
Follow Sauk Valley Media reporter Christi Warren on Twitter for live updates from the courtroom: @SeaWarren.