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Trial revisits the shock, darkness, despair

Nicholas Sheley stands convicted of four additional killings from June 2008, after a trial that revisited that terrible time. Let the victims and their families be remembered. Let the community be vigilant against evil.

Published: Saturday, May 31, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Justice has been slow in coming for Nicholas T. Sheley. Very slow.

Thursday’s guilty verdict in four Rock Falls killings brings to six the number of murder convictions, all from a killing spree nearly 6 years ago, against the former Sterling man, now 34.

Next, after his sentencing on Aug. 11, Sheley will stand trial in Missouri for the killings of an Arkansas couple. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. (Illinois banned executions in 2011.)

The crimes all happened in late June 2008. It was a frightening time. We revisit a Sauk Valley Media editorial from July 1, 2008, written when Sheley was only hours away from being apprehended, and as the enormity of the crimes began to hit home.

•  •  •

This type of thing doesn’t happen here.

It simply doesn’t happen.

A 93-year-old church-going man beaten to death and left in the trunk of a car.

Police carrying blue body bags out of an apartment building in the dead of night – a man, then another man, then a woman.

Then a child.

Five bodies in as many days. A manhunt for a man with an extensive criminal past. Relatives arrested for allegedly aiding him. A search for bloody clothes.

The search for Nicholas Sheley, a suspect in one area homicide and a person of interest in four others discovered Monday afternoon in Rock Falls, has become critically urgent.

Police have been on the trail of Sheley for days, ever since they recovered the body of an elderly Sterling man who had been missing for days.

Rumors are flying.

People have reported seeing Sheley in every nook and cranny of the Sauk Valley.

People are afraid. They are spreading stories. They are becoming angry with police.

Stores and restaurants in Rock Falls closed their doors early Monday evening.

Whoever is responsible for these killings, be it Sheley or someone else, has shed any regard for the rule of law and self-control – with deadly consequences. The result has fueled fear and panic.

Therein lies the difference between the killer or killers and we as a community.

We know where the line lies between right and wrong. We are responsible for our actions, and we have the ability to rise above the frenzy and stand resolute.

Now is the time for calm.

Now is the time to remember the souls of the people who met their untimely ends.

Pray for their families in their hour of shock, darkness and despair.

Hold your family close.

Now also is the time to be vigilant.

Take notice of your surroundings. Look after your neighbor.

If you think you see something or know something that would help police in their search, put fear aside and come forward. It is something you not only should do; it’s something you must do.

Local law enforcement have put in long hours in their search for Sheley, and Monday’s gruesome discovery will mean more hours hunting those responsible for this brutal, senseless slaughter in our community.

We hope they succeed before someone else is hurt.

It’s just not supposed to happen here. – July 1, 2008

•  •  •

On Thursday, a Rock Island County jury convicted Sheley in the brutal and heinous beating deaths (he used a hammer) of Brock Branson, 29, his girlfriend, Kilynna Blake, 20, her 2-year-old son, Dayan, and Kenneth Ulve, 25, of Rock Falls.

Sheley was previously convicted, in separate trials, of killing Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling, and Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg.

Missouri prosecutors will next try Sheley for the deaths of an Arkansas couple, Tom and Jill Estes, in Festus, Missouri.

Whatever fueled the spree killings (prosecutors say drugs, alcohol and revenge were factors), their terrible, gruesome nature, as detailed in the testimony, continues to shock, sadden, and anger the community.

As we wrote in 2008, let the victims and their families be remembered.

Let the community be vigilant against evil.

And now, with four more convictions, let the healing begin anew.

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