Guest Entry by katfish!
My apologies to katfish for not getting her live court reporting up as soon as possible. The Sprocket household has been thrown an extra curve ball this week, but it's all good.
Nicholas T. Sheley 28, Sterling, IL is suspected of killing 8 people in Illinois and Missouri. He is only charged in 4 deaths so far. Today I attended the arraignment of Sheley at the Knox County courthouse in Galesburg, IL... Sheley is accused of kidnapping, killing, and robbing Ronald Randall 65, of Galesburg on June 28. He is also accused of stealing Randall's 2007 Chevy pickup.
I arrive at the courthouse a little before 9 a.m.. The hearing isn't supposed to start until 9:30 so I take my time going in. This courthouse, that was built in 1886, is a sandstone building with ornate details typical of the Romanesque period. Adjacent to the courthouse is Standish Park Arboretum, a three acre ( lol , that's about one square block for city folk) park with almost 200 trees and shrubs. Seems like an unlikely setting for the ugly business that goes on inside.
Knox County Courthouse
The arraignment is being held on the 2nd floor today. I take the staircase instead of the elevator. I remember loving to ride that elevator when I was a kid. It wasn't much more than a metal cage then, but still had an "elevator operator". Today the elevator is the (somewhat) modern push button type. As I climb the stairs, which wind around the elevator shaft, I notice what looks like parts of the old elevator are mounted on the walls of the elevator shaft. The county seems to do a good job of preserving the integrity of this building while adapting to today's needs.
When I reach the 2nd floor, I notice 3 or 4 sheriff's deputies standing in the hall in front of the courtroom. Sheley must be here already. It's only about 5 past 9 so I'm a little surprised when I enter the courtroom and the hearing seems to be getting under way. The Sheriff, David Clague, and another guy are sitting in the second row on the defense side. On the prosecution side there is 4 or 5 women who seem to be court employees sitting in the front row. I settle in behind them in the 2nd row. There are only a few other people in the gallery so I have a lot of choices but I have a good side-view of Sheley from this seat. He has a new buzz cut which makes his hair look darker and is wearing glasses. Has Knox County provided Mr. Sheley a pair of specs? Of course he has on his jailhouse orange jumpsuit and is fully shackled.
Judge James Stewart says the purpose of this hearing is an arraignment and to consider a motion filed by the defense. Judge Stewart talks about the grand jury, serves the defense with a copy of the 17 count Bill of Indictment and then reads the indictment to the courtroom. Counts 1-10 are first-degree murder charges. The indictment alleges that on June 28 Sheley caused blunt-force trauma to the head of Ronald Randall that resulted in Randall's death. Aggravating factors listed in the indictment are that the blunt-force injuries to Ronald Randall were the result of heinous behavior and wanton cruelty to someone age 60+. Judge Stewart went on to read counts 11-17 which allege that on June 28 Nicholas Sheley kidnapped Ronald Randall, robbed him and stole his 2007 Chevy pickup.
Because I'm trying to get down as much as I can of what the judge says, I don't pay much attention to who is coming and going. I did notice a young woman come in by herself who looks familiar, not like I know her personally, but I've seen her before. I don't think she is a court employee because she has on jeans. A group of women come in about the same time and sit in my row. I do recognize a few of these women as friends of the victim. I saw them on the local news after Mr. Randall's body had been found.
I turn my attention back to the judge as he tells Sheley that in Illinois the minimum sentence if convicted of 1st-degree murder is 20-60 years. If aggravators are found to be present by the finders of fact, Sheley could face natural life in prison or the death penalty (should the state choose to pursue death). Furthermore; in Illinois, if the finders of fact are not unanimous when considering the death penalty, the sentence of natural life would be imposed. The judge does have the final say if the death penalty is imposed by the finders of fact and he /she doesn't agree. Judge Stewart asks Nicholas Sheley if he understands the charges and the penalties. Sheley responds clearly, "I do your honor". Indeed he has followed closely and whispers to his attorney occasionally. Those glasses must just be readers. I notice he takes them off whenever he looks at the judge.
Judge Stewart asks the defense how they will plead to the charges and the Public Defender (P.D.), James Harrell responds not guilty to all 17 counts and requests a jury trial. The judge said there is some housekeeping to do. Because this is a possible death penalty case, he and all attorneys must be certified by the State Supreme Court as a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar. The judge states that he is qualified and looks to the prosecution table. Assistant Attorney General, Michael Atterberry rises and says that he is a member of the Capital Litigation Trial Bar. States Attorney (S.A.), John Pepmeyer, says something I didn't get but I did hear him say his membership is on hold and he has been a practicing criminal attorney for 35 years. Public defender, James Harrell says that he is a member and moves that Atterberry should be considered lead attorney for the prosecution. I didn't hear the response to this, but I looked up the statute for Illinois when I got home and it is a valid request as the law reads.
The judge goes on to say the state has 120 days to decide if they will seek the death penalty. He adds the sooner the better, so everyone knows how to proceed. Stewart states they should have a case management conference in 60 days to see where they are on discovery. Because of the publicity this case has received Judge Stewart says he feels compelled to make some rules for trial publicity. He said he doesn't want to infringe on any one's 1st amendment rights, but in order to ensure a fair trial, attorneys involved will not make public statements as to guilt or innocence, statements made or not made by the defendant or any merits of the case. Judge Stewart pauses as if for effect and then asks if everyone is ready to proceed.
The P.D., Harrell wants to enter a motion. As he starts, S.A., Pepmeyer asks for a sidebar. When the lawyers returned to their seats, Harrell wants the judge to admonish the defendant of the possible penalties for the last seven counts of the indictment.Oops...just about left that out. The judge says that counts 11-15 are class X felonies, punishable by 6-30 years ( 60 if aggravators are found ) the last 2 counts I didn't catch. My notes from the last hearing say they are class 2 felonies with punishment ranging 3-15 years, a $25,000 fine and 2 years supervision after release.
S.A. Pepmeyer then requested a pre-trial discovery order on or before September 12. P.D. Harrell wants October 23. Pepmeyer says he is concerned about the speedy trial rule. Judge Stewart makes it clear any delay will be "on" the defense. Harrell agrees and the judge then rules September 21 on discovery and October 6 at 9 a.m. for a pretrial hearing. The judge then advises Sheley that by Illinois law he is entitled to a second defense attorney and reminds him that he must be qualified for capital litigation.
Harrell enters his motion to enter a permanent preserve evidence order. Judge Steven Bordner had entered an emergency order on July 11th and he wants it continued. Judge Stewart tells the prosecution all evidence they have should be preserved. The case is continued to October 6 at 9a.m. and the hearing is over.
A couple Sheriff's Deputies hold the gallery back while others escort Sheley out of the courtroom and to the elevator. I am focused on the women who came and sat in my row. I noticed they are speaking to a woman in the front row. I realize the woman they are talking to is Shirley Pringle, a victim rights advocate for Knox County. I wonder if one of these women in my row is Ronald Randall's sister. I made a mental note to ask a friend of mine if she knows what Randall's sister looks like and headed out.
I need to stop by the Circuit Clerks office to see if I can get a copy of the motion that was filed. Turns out the court reporter won't be done with the motion until noon so I will have to come back. A woman asked me if I saw who that girl was yelling at? I said what girl? She pointed to the girl in the jeans I had spoke of earlier. As this girl went down the stairs ahead of me I realized where I had seen her before. She is Sheley's ex-wife, the news report I saw her on was right after he had been caught and she said she had been very afraid for her and her kids.
The Quad Cities are right in between Galesburg and Sterling so we have seen coverage from both areas on WQAD. Today she doesn't look afraid, she looks mad. She brushes off the press and heads through Standish park. A local reporter told me she yelled " Anything you want to say to your kids?" but she doesn't mention a response from Sheley. I see WQAD is here so I will catch the evening news to see if they caught what happened.
WQAD reports Sheley mumbled something in reply to his ex-wife then clearly states "Tell them I love them." There was a pause. Then as Sheley entered the elevator she shouted, "What did you do, Nick?" Sheley turned his back to the her, and she shouted again, "What did you do?". ( I must have just missed this confrontation because I was right behind her on the stairs.) WQAD also reports that Sheley blew a kiss at their camera as he climbed the stairs from the courthouse basement, and that's when News channel 8's Chris Williams asked, "Nick, are you concerned about the death penalty? "Sheley responded, "It's all in God's hands." Chris then asked the million dollar question, "Did you do it?" Sheley answered, "It appears you guys already made a decision." He then got into the squad car and blew another kiss before the car drove away.
I just wonder what the defense will be for Sheley. One thing is for sure, this trial is just the beginning for Nicholas Sheley. A Whiteside County grand jury just indicted Sheley for killing a 93-year-old Sterling man. The 14-count indictment accuses Nicholas Sheley of first-degree murder in the June 23rd death of Russell Reed. Sheley is also charged with home invasion, burglary and robbery for allegedly storming 90- year-old Janice Wilson's Sterling home on June 14th. And this is still not the end for Sheley.... Two first-degree murder charges have been filed in Jefferson County, Missouri against Sheley accusing him of killing Tom and Jill Estes, a 54-year-old couple visiting Missouri from Arkansas.
What remains to be seen is if Nicholas Sheley will be charged in Whiteside County in the deaths of 4 people (including a 2-year-old boy) found in an apartment in Rock Falls, IL on June 28th and how the remainder of these trials will be handled.
Sheley's wife confronts him.
Thanks again, katfish! T&T will look forward to your next in court report! Sprocket