ROCK ISLAND – There were 11 blows to Kenneth Ulve's head. Seven to Brock Branson's. Kilynna Blake had six. Her son, 2-year-old Dayan? Four – one, in particular, was clearly visible from his autopsy photographs: a large, round, dark red impact site just above his left eyebrow; the rest of his face the palest ivory.
All four died sometime during the final hours of June 28, 2008, in their Rock Falls apartment. Their deaths, forensic pathologist Dr. Mark Peters testified in court Wednesday, were all caused by blunt force trauma to the head.
And what caused that trauma, Assistant Attorney General Bill Elward inquired.
In each autopsy photo that Elward displayed for the jury, Peters pointed out the round impact sites, and then what lay beneath them: round, depressed fractures in the victims' skulls. Sometimes, the impact site would punch a clean hole right through the skull, as was seen in a photograph of Kenneth's skull, once it had been removed. It could only mean one thing.
"A hammer fits the bill," Peters said.
Through the entire presentation, Nicholas Sheley, the twice-convicted murderer on trial for their deaths, stared straight ahead, rocking in his chair.
The victims' bodies were found 2 days later, on June 30, 2008, when Brock's mother, Connie, and father, Dallas, decided to check on them after a few days of not hearing from them.
Also found in the apartment were a pair of blood-stained khaki shorts, a blood-stained blue work shirt with the initials "A.J." embroidered on it, a pile of ash, and two Newport cigarette butts.
Prosecutors say those items are what link Nicholas Sheley to the deaths.
They say he's the one who swung the hammer.
Nine people testified at the Rock Island County Justice Center on Day 3 of Sheley's third Illinois murder trail, most of whom were there to testify to the chain of custody of evidence found at the crime scene.
Among them was Heather May, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police crime lab in Rockford. She's the one who tested the DNA on the cigarette butts, and the DNA found on blood swabs taken from the apartment hallway.
The blood in the apartment hallway, she was able to confirm, belonged to Kilynna and Brock. They were found in the hall, Kylinna slumped on her side, Brock a bit farther away from her, his arms entangled in a broom.
The DNA found on the cigarette butts that were found at the end of their bed matched the profile of one Nicholas Sheley, she said.
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.