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Local

Missouri judge denies Sheley's change of venue request

Motion requesting new judge also denied

HILLSBORO, Mo. – A convicted spree killer’s requests to have his Jefferson County murder trial moved and judge changed were denied.

Assistant Prosecutor Attorney Steven Jerrell successfully opposed Nicholas Sheley, 36, by shutting down several argumentative exhibits: that Jefferson County residents are prejudiced because of TV news video that aired in 2008; that residents are biased because of online news coverage; and that a jury cannot be selected because of several out-of-state newspaper articles.

“We don’t pick juries here from Iowa, Illinois or Wisconsin,” Jerrell said in the argument submitted to Circuit Judge Nathan B. Stewart.

In addition, the defense failed to establish a relationship between the news video, TV scripts, and the survey results produced by Thomas Beisecker, University of Kansas communications studies professor, the sole witness at a Jan. 25 hearing.

He testified on Sheley’s behalf that there is a “substantial amount” of prejudice. Sheley is accused of killing Tom and Jill Estes of Sherwood, Arkansas, after police say he attacked the couple outside a Festus, Missouri, hotel in 2008.

Jerrell refuted the survey results of 307 Jefferson County residents.

“There were quite a few problems with the reliability. ... Specifically whether or not the people surveyed were even qualified to be a juror,” he wrote, noting it was a random telephone survey, and it could not be determined whether three people in the 18-24 age group were at least 21 (to be eligible for jury service).

“It only takes 34 unbiased people in a jury pool for this case to pick 12 jurors and 2 alternates,” he said. Of 307 people surveyed, 122 said they had not read, seen or heard anything about the murders; 5 were unsure.

Jerrell also asked the judge to consider the age of the case itself. Because of continuances, “this case will be over 8 years old when finally tried. That means a 13-year-old in June 2008 could be a potential juror in June 2016.”

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty for Sheley, if convicted.

Sheley was extradited in February 2015 from Illinois to Missouri.

In May 2014, he was convicted of killing four people in Rock Falls – Brock Branson, 29; his fiancée Kilynna Blake, 20; her 2-year-old son Dayan; and Kenneth Ulve, 25.

In November 2012, he was convicted in Whiteside County of bludgeoning 93-year-old Russel Reed in Sterling. In September 2011, Sheley was convicted in Knox County of killing 65-year-old Ronald Randall. His change-of-venue requests in those trials were denied.

In April 2013, he won his third request citing pretrial publicity, and his second Whiteside County trial was moved to Rock Island County.

All six, and the Esteses, were killed between June 23 and 30, 2008.

The change-of-venue ruling was made Feb. 22. Sheley’s next hearing is June 15.

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