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Trial testimony: Anything to 'keep the peace'

Nick Sheley's ex-wife testifies in court

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2014 12:01 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, May 29, 2014 11:29 p.m. CDT
(Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times)
Nick Sheley's ex-wife Holly testifies Thursday in Rock Island County court.
(Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times)
A photo of Nick Sheley was shown and entered into evidence Thursday.
(Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times)
Sheley's defense attorney Jeremy Karlin presents closing arguments.
(Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times)
Judge Jeffrey O'Connor gives jury instruction Thursday in the Nick Sheley trial.
(Kevin E. Schmidt/Quad City Times)
Nick Sheley listens as his ex-wife testifies on Thursday.

ROCK ISLAND – Just after midnight on June 29, 2008, Holly and Nick Sheley were sitting on a bench near the Hennepin Canal in Rock Falls. Nick, who was drinking Hennesey and Red Bull, wanted his wife to sing to him. Holly was scared – covered in blood after sitting in the passenger seat of a pickup truck Nick was driving – so she sang.

Three times she sang what he asked: “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

He wanted to have sex. Holly laid down the flannel shirt he’d given her, and she complied.

Anything to “keep the peace,” she said during her testimony Thursday morning – the eighth and final day of her now-ex-husband’s murder trial in Rock Island County court.

After they had sex, they got back into the truck, a dark-colored, newer model, Holly told the court. She noticed the time on the dash; it was almost 1 a.m.

Prosecutors say that about 2 hours before that, Sheley had brutally murdered four people in a Rock Falls apartment. A jury on Thursday convicted Sheley of those killings.

Holly had once been in a relationship with one of those victims: Brock Branson. The two continued to date, even after Holly began seeing Nick. At some point, she said, the relationship did end.

But it was a sore subject between her and Nick, Holly said, and she recalled one instance in particular when Branson was at her house, and Nick called her. The two men ended up on the phone together.

It was a heated, angry conversation, she testified. Branson was cursing.

Nick and Holly were married on May 10, 2008. About that time, Nick made her delete Branson as a friend on her MySpace page.

Branson was killed less than 2 months later by a hammer that Nick Sheley swung.

Before Nick picked up Holly at Jessine Mondragon’s house about 11:30 p.m. on June 28, she hadn’t seen him since he took off on June 23 after they’d had an argument about his drinking.

That’s the day that Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling was killed. Nick has since been convicted of that murder.

When Nick showed up at Mondragon's house, neither of the women was expecting him, Holly said Thursday, and Mondragon also testified to that Wednesday.

He leaned down and picked up their daughter, who is now 8, gave her a kiss and a hug, and he asked Holly to come give him a hug, too. She did.

Holly said he was wearing clothes she’d never seen before – a gray Chicago Bears T-shirt and khaki shorts, clothes, prosecutors say, he had stolen from Branson's apartment after killing him.

Nick took Holly’s hand and led her out the back of the apartment, walking with her through neighbors’ yards in the darkness, until they reached a truck.

“Is it fair to say you were sneaking back to the truck – didn’t want to be seen?” Assistant Attorney General Steve Nate asked her.

“I suppose,” Holly said.

He had her get into the passenger’s side, and he started driving through the west end of Sterling, toward Lyndon. After a while, Holly said, she noticed that the seat of her pants were getting wet. She reached her hands beneath her. When she brought them out, they were covered in blood.

She “freaked out,” she said, but Nick continued driving toward Lyndon.

He pulled into the driveway of an empty house and tried to get her to get out of the car. She wouldn’t.

“I didn’t want to get out,” she said from the witness stand. “I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was trying to do some quick thinking. I felt like, if something was going to happen, the grass on the way back was pretty tall, so I didn’t know how I’d be found.”

Nick got back into the truck, and the two drove to the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Rock Falls, where he parked.

He and Holly got out. Nick handed her a flannel shirt – later identified as Ronald Randall’s – to cover the blood on her body, and they walked toward the canal.

In 2010, Sheley was convicted of Randall's murder in Galesburg. It was Randall's truck that Holly and Nick were in that night as they drove through the west end of Sterling, to Lyndon, and back to Rock Falls.

Holly and Nick's divorce was finalized this past December.

At the close of her testimony Thursday, Karlin spoke quietly to Nick, who was shaking his head. Karlin said that at his client's request, he declined to cross-examine Holly.

Sheley was convicted of the murders of Branson, his girlfriend, Kilynna Blake, her son, Dayan, and Kenneth Ulve in their apartment around 11 p.m. on June 28.

He already is serving two life sentences for the deaths of Randall and Reed, and is accused of killing an Arkansas couple, Jill and Tom Estes, in their hotel parking lot in Festus, Missouri.

Sheley next will head to court there, where he could face the death penalty.

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