Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two hearings in Nicholas Sheley case

I attended 2 hearings this week in Knox County, IL in the case of Nicholas T. Sheley, a 29 year old Sterling, IL man accused of a two-state killing spree in late June that ended in the deaths of eight people.

In Knox County, Sheley faces a 17 count indictment for the bludgeoning death of Ronald Randall, 65, Galesburg, IL. If convicted, Sheley faces the death penalty.

The hearing on Wednesday, October 15, is a Return of Subpoena hearing that's scheduled to start at 10 am. All that I know about this hearing is Sheriff David Clague has been subpoenaed to bring all memo concerning Sheley (visitor logs, phone calls, request for medical, etc.).

By the time I make my way to the courtroom on the second floor it is 9:45 already... I had to park farther away today and doesn't it figure, it's raining pretty heavy. ( I'm not whining, that's what my notes say. LOL) When I get to the courtroom, the doors are closed and it's obvious court is in session. I peak through the blinds and I can see the Public Defender, James Harrell is seated at the defense table with a guy next to him with a buzzed head decked out in his jail house orange jumpsuit. Darn, he looks like Sheley, but I'm not sure.

For a moment I'm disappointed, Ninth Circuit Judge Stewart set security rules for the hearings involving Sheley, once court one goes in or out....but then I notice who is sitting at the prosecution table. The attorney at the table for the state is an assistant states attorney that I've seen in court before. Whew! That means I can go in. The States Attorney, John Pepmeyer, is handling the Sheley case in Knox County with the assistance of Illinois Assistant Attorney General , Micheal Atterberry. Neither men are in the courtroom yet.

Ronald Randall's family is in the front row as usual. I take my usual seat in the next row. There is a dozen or so other people in the courtroom, but none are familiar. People come and go as the cases they are here for are up, until it's time for Sheley's hearing. Judge Stewart calls a recess, he says something about cooling off. Indeed the courtroom is pretty warm today. Testing out the furnace before it gets really cold? I suppose...thankfully a bailif opens a couple windows.

In just a few minutes the defense attorneys, James Harrell and Jeremy Karlin are taking their places and then John Pepmeyer comes in and sits down. When the Judge comes back in and calls court to order, he says that it isn't necessary for Nicolas Sheley to be here for this hearing and recognizes his defense counsel are here. Evidently no one for the Attorney General's Office will be here either. This should be quick.

Jeremy Karlin gives the judge a large envelope the defense had received, it contained transcripts and an audio CD of the interview Sheley gave to WQAD before a gag order was imposed by the court. Actually, it was one of the reasons the judge issued the gag order on September 24. Evidently the defense had requested these documents but they should have been sent to the court first. The judge gives them back to the defense and copies will be given to the state as well, but they won't go into the court file unless the defense or the state chooses to use them as evidence.

Judge Stewart says that yesterday, Sheriff Clague had provided the court with all jail records related to Sheley including incident reports, prisoner requests, medical reports and request log, visitor logs,written communications and memoranda regarding oral communication to or from Sheley as subpoenaed by the court.

Harrell says they will go through the reports to be sure that is everything they need. And the hearing is over.

After the hearing Wednesday, I learn that the defense has filed a motion requesting a case management hearing to clarify the scope of the fitness hearing order. That hearing is scheduled for Friday, October 17 at 11 am.

At a hearing Sept. 19, Sheley told the court he wanted to represent himself or have other counsel appointed if it can be determined his lawyers are ineffective. Sheley expressed his displeasure with his defense counsel accusing the pair of “sophisticated fast-lawyer talk.” Sheley said they were not adhering to his wishes for a speedy trial and his wishes were being “blown off as unimportant.”

At the same hearing, defense co-counsel Jeremy Karlin told the court they have doubt of Sheley's fitness to stand trial, his competency to knowingly wave his right to counsel and represent himself. Judge Stewart says Sheley must undergo a fitness hearing to determine whether or not he is fit to stand trial and can knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently wave his right to counsel and represent himself.

On Oct. 2, Dr. Terry Killian was appointed to conduct a fitness hearing on Sheley. Killian has until Nov. 2 to submit a written report that includes a diagnosis and explanation of how it was reached; a description of Sheley’s mental or physical disability, if any; and an opinion as to whether and to what extent it impairs Sheley’s ability to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him. His fitness must be established to determine whether he is fit to stand trial, competent to waive his right to counsel and competent to represent himself before he is permitted to fire his attorneys and represent himself. Until his fitness to stand trial is determined, James Harrell and Jeremy Karlin remain his court-appointed attorneys.

When I get to court Friday at 10:30 for the 11 am hearing, I get a parking spot right up front! It's a typical fall day in the midwest as well, 65+ degrees, partly sunny, and a slight breeze moving the gold and orange and crimson leaves from the branches of the trees to the ground around the courthouse. As long as it's not raining I love the fall. LOL

I'm not going into all of the details of courtroom today because there isn't much that pertains to Sheley's case. Counsel for the defense and the prosecution are here. Sheriff Clague is here too, that usually means Sheley is in the building.

Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart said the hearing was scheduled to clarify the language of his Oct. 2 order appointing a fitness expert to examine Sheley. Those of us in the court are notified the hearing will be closed to the public. I was a little surprised because I thought case management hearing are usually open hearings. The fact that this pertains to Sheley's mental health was relevant I suppose.

The hearing is held in the jury room ( for security reasons?) and is over before a some of us make our way out of the courtroom. States Attorney John Pepmeyer says that the judge said transcripts of the hearing will be made available to the media once some personal info is redacted. With that we make our way out of the courtroom.

A case management hearing is scheduled for Oct. 31. Stewart said the hearing will be open to the public.

Sheley is also charged in Whiteside County with five counts of first-degree murder in the death of Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling and 15 counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Kilynna Blake, 20, of Cedar City, Utah - her son Dayan Blake, 2, of Cedar City, Utah - her fiancé Brock Branson, 29, of Rock Falls - and Kenneth Ulve Jr., 25, of Rock Falls. He also faces murder charges in Missouri in the deaths of Jill and Tom Estes both 54, of Sherwood, Ark. Sphere: Related Content

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