Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Nicholas Sheley found fit to stand trial;case enters unchartered ground regarding fitness to represent himself.

UPDATE 12/27/2008 - I have added a link , in paragraph 11, to an interview with Sheley's ex-wife.

Today, Monday, December 22, I attended another hearing in the case of IL v. Nicholas T. Sheley. Sheley is a 29 year old Sterling, IL man accused of a two-state killing spree that left 8 people dead, in late June, 2008. Knox County is the first to prosecute Sheley. He is charged with bludgeoning to death a 65 year old Galesburg, IL man, Ronald Randall, and robbing him before he dumped his body and stole his pickup truck. If convicted, Sheley will face the death penalty.

When I pull up to the courthouse at about 1 p.m. I’m surprised to get a parking spot right in front….does it seem petty to note this?….not when it’s sub-zero temperatures and icy out , those spots become valuable! LOL ! On my way to the entrance, I take a peak at the back side of the courthouse where they usually bring in the prisoners, it doesn’t look like Sheley has been brought over from the jail yet, he is usually escorted by a caravan. The hearing is supposed to start at 1:30 p.m..

As I enter the courtroom I see there are more people here than usual. Ronald Randall’s family is here, sitting in the first two rows on the prosecution side. There are a few more of their family here today, that’s really good to see. Strength in numbers. I’m sure it’s hard for many people to attend court on a regular basis because of work. Shirley Pringle, a victims rights advocate for Knox County joins them. She does a great job and provides a lot of support. ( She rescued me today, I'll get to that later)

There are people seated on the defense side that I haven’t seen before, a young couple and an older couple who seem to be together. During Sheley’s hearings, the court wants to know who is in the courtroom and their reason for being here, I overhear the older woman say they are here for Russell Reed. The bailiff tells them if there is any trouble in the courtroom with Sheley, everyone should go to the jury room at the back far side of the courtroom. Russell Reed, 93, of Sterling is the first homicide victim in this alleged killing spree.

I must have a puzzled look on my face because the bailiff asked me wasn't I aware of the procedure if there was trouble with Sheley in the courtroom? I tell her I hadn't heard that before, but had decided on my own, if Sheley represents himself, I'm sitting in the back row. LOL ! She repeated the plan to me and said that door will be unlocked. I'm sure this plan wasn't formulated just for Sheley, Knox County has had other violent crime cases, even where the defendant represented himself....always good to have a plan.

A female (late teens or early 20’s) comes in and sits in the back row on the defense side of the courtroom. The bailiff asks her the normal questions, I couldn’t hear her response but I do hear the bailiff tell her she is not allowed to say anything to Sheley when he comes in the courtroom, if she does she will be asked to leave. Hmmm, I will try to find out more about her.

Next I see a Whiteside County Sheriff deputy, in uniform, speaking with some of the Sheriff’s deputies from Knox County. I get the impression from their conversation, the Knox County guys would be glad to ship Sheley back to Whiteside County with this guy….but it doesn’t sound as if Whiteside is too crazy about dealing with him either.

I know there has been one altercation at the Knox County Jail here in Galesburg involving Sheley . It was reported a guy was hassling him, so Sheley got the screws out of a bar on the wall and attacked the guy with the bar. The screws were found in his pocket. IIRC, the fight was stopped before anyone was hurt. There was another incident at the jail involving Sheley, but because of the gag order, no information has been released about it. The Whiteside Sheriff deputy and another man take a seat right behind me. I turned and asked him if he came down to check Sheley out, he said, ”yeah”.

Another group of people come in the courtroom that I haven’t seen before, there are seven or eight of them. ( I didn't actually count) One of Ronald Randall’s sisters said they were family of some of the victims from Rock Falls, she had seen them at a “victims meeting” in Whiteside County, but wasn’t sure whose relatives they are. The four victims Sheley has been indicted for killing in Rock Falls were 2 men ages 25 and 29, a woman age 20 and her 2 year old son. One of the women speaks with Shirley Pringle, she must be the victims advocate for Whiteside County. I also notice the Whiteside County States Attorney, Gary Spencer is sitting behind me. I'm sure everyone wants to know how this trial will proceed.

The counsel for both sides are taking their places (prosecution has an extra man today from the Attorney General's office) and 3 members of accredited press are in court today.

Sheley is brought into the courtroom fully shackled and accompanied by his "entourage" of Sheriff's personnel. Sheley takes a good look around the courtroom but doesn’t acknowledge his “supporter”. I did find out she is a local girl who spent some time in Knox County jail and got to know Sheley. She is a small girl and sitting in the back row, he may not have seen her. As far as I know Nicholas Sheley is married, so I don’t know what is up with this new “friend”. The only other person I have seen in court “for” Sheley was his ex-wife, back on August 8, she was not there to support him, but to hold him accountable for the confusion and fear he has brought into their children’s lives. You can read more about that encounter here.
(I also found a link to an article by Susan Kaufman of the Galesburg Register- Mail, She was able to find Sheley's ex-wife and further interview her after the confrontation. You can read that article here. )

Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart enters the courtroom and court is in session. For the record he recognizes seated at the defense table are Court Appointed co-counsel, Jeremy Karlin; Public Defender, James Harrell and of course Nicholas Sheley. At the prosecution table is Knox County States Attorney, John Pepmeyer; Assistant Attorney General, Michael Atterberry; Assistant Attorney General, Steve Plazibat; and another attorney from the Attorney Generals office, sorry I didn't get his name, he has spelled it in court three times now and I still can't catch it, lol, it starts El_ _ _.

Judge Stewart says that earlier this fall he ruled there was bona fide doubt in regards to the defendants fitness and Dr. Terry Killian was appointed by the court to conduct the fitness evaluation. Now that those results are in, he would like to hear from both sides.

Michael Atterberry starts off by saying the issue of bona fide doubt was raised by the defense attorneys this fall. Based on the court-ordered fitness evaluation conducted by Dr. Terry Killian, dated November 21, 2008, the peoples opinion is there is no bona fide doubt to stand trial.

Jeremy Karlin says that the defense concurs there is no bona fide doubt to stand trial. He continues, if the court agrees, we need to visit Sheley's motion. (Sheley submitted a handwritten motion dated September 19 that was sealed by the court until Sheley's fitness was determined.)

Judge Stewart then rules that he finds no bona fide doubt to stand trial, because of his filing of the motion, the court asks Sheley if he wishes to proceed. Sheley says yes.

This is the point that Shirley Pringle saves me! My pen quit working! Normally I have more than one, but today I didn't grab an extra because this pen was full of ink!! I asked Shirley if she had an extra pen and she didn't...but she was so kind ...she gave me hers anyway and told me to keep it. I can't tell you how much I appreciate her kindness !!!! Merry Christmas Shirley, and all the best to you for 2009!

Karlin tells the court that Sheley gave the defense a copy of the handwritten motion. They do have a response, but have waited to file it until Sheley renews his motion.

Judge Stewart says that the written motion sets forth a couple of issues:

  • Whether to hire private counsel or represent self.
  • Claim of conflict of interest with current attorneys, based on different theories of defense.
  • Claim of ineffective counsel, motions and procedures applied against his wishes.

Stewart continues that he will allow the state 21 days to file their response, because the motion was sealed when entered with the court, the state hasn't been able to review it.

Jeremy Karlin tells the court that defense counsel has a response to Sheley's motion, but due to the ineffective counsel issue, they will need to revise it and will take the extra time as well. My notes get a little confusing here because next I have: In response to Sheley's motion, Sheley is unable to intelligently waive his right to counsel and with regard to Indiana v. Edwards, Mr. Sheley suffers from a serious mental condition and is not competent to represent himself. This conclusion is based on an independent evaluation conducted by Dr. Robert M. Hanlon, a clinical neuropsychologist in Chicago and assistant professor at Northwestern University. Dr. Hanlon's evaluation has been filed with the court as a sealed exhibit. I don't know, perhaps they need more time to change wording???? Whatever, because the state gets the time, it doesn't hurt for the defense to wait to submit their response as well.

States Attorney John Pepmeyer tells the court that the state wants to know what is the true relief that Sheley seeks:

  • conflict of interest ?
  • ineffective counsel ?
  • to represent self ?

I'm sorry, my notes show that Judge Stewart made a statement here, but I didn't get it down. Based on the next response from the state I think he said all issues are relevant.

Michael Atterberry says the state will respond on all 3 issues. Atterberry also says that the neuropsychological issues need to be determined , if factual.

Judge Stewart then referring to Indiana v. Edwards, a June 2008 Supreme Court decision that found the standard for finding a person fit to stand trial is not as high as the standard for allowing a defendant to represent himself, said, "There is no procedure, protocal or policy on how to do this." Stewart called the matter "unchartered ground and the court has to invent procedure when there is not precedent."

Stewart also said that the court could have additional counsel appointed to present case law to Sheley so he can make a decision about representing himself without his perceived conflicting interests of his attorneys. When asked if he would like an additional lawyer appointed, Sheley said, "I would." Stewart said the additional counsel would also have to be capital litigation qualified. He also stated the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled there must be two attorneys appointed to a death penalty case (when defendant is indigent) but he doesn't think there is a limit to the number of court appointed attorneys.

Michael Atterberry asks the court if needed could they have more than 21 days to respond to Sheley's motion. There is a conflict they need to research where Sheley's motion is to remove counsel and the defense motion is to show that Sheley is not able to make this decision.

Steve Plazibat recommends 45 days to respond. Judge Stewart says he will give 30 days. The response from both parties will be due January 23. The Judge says that the case management hearing scheduled for December 31 is a statutory requirement.

I can hear the rumbling of Sheley's voice talking to defense counsel. James Harrell says that Sheley has a couple questions, he wants to know if he can have copies of the transcripts for today's hearing. Sheley also wants this delay charged to the state. The judge says no, the delay is on the defense motion. I think he ok'd the transcripts though.

Steve Plazibat wants to cancel the case management hearing for Dec. 31 because of the representation issue. Judge Stewart says no, it is a statutory hearing and must be held. He also scheduled a case management hearing for January 30 at 1:30. He said representation on discovery is given to this defense.

Court is recessed.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lawyers believe Sheley fit for trial.

UPDATE 12/24/2008
First, I want to wish all readers of katfish.... ponders a happy holiday season, however you celebrate...Christmas, Hanukka, Kawanzaa,..?...and my wish for you all is to have a blessed and prosperous year in 2009.
Second, I want to apologize for not getting my entry posted from Sheley's fitness hearing yet. My personal life has been quite busy the last few days....I thought I'd be able to get the entry posted right after the hearing but t'was not to be. I have it about half way done (stealing a moment here and there) I have about 30 people coming in 3 hope is to complete the entry tonight after they leave. me...I have cookies and milk! LOL
The hearing was quite interesting and I have a lot to say....Sheley was found fit to stand trial, but the issue of him representing himself wasn't resolved. 8-(

Below is an article as it appeared in The Register-Mail on Thursday, December 18. My thoughts follow Susan's article.

The Register-Mail
The attorneys for Nicholas Sheley don’t doubt their client’s fitness to stand trial.
In a notice filed Tuesday in Knox County Circuit Court, attorneys Jim Harrell and Jeremy Karlin wrote their decision was based on two evaluations of Sheley — a court ordered evaluation conducted by Dr. Terry Killian, and an unspecified independent evaluation.

The evaluations were ordered to determine Sheley’s competency to stand trial and possibly represent himself. A hearing is scheduled Monday to determine if Sheley will be able to fire his attorneys and represent himself — a desire he has expressed in previous hearings.

A gag order remains in effect until Sheley’s competency is determined.
Sheley faces the death penalty in Knox County if convicted of the bludgeoning death of Ronald Randall. Sheley also is charged with killing seven other people in two states.
A case management hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Dec. 31.

katfish here:

The United States Supreme Court issued a decision on a case, Indiana v. Edwards, on June 19, 2008. In a 7-2 opinion, the Court held that the Constitution does not forbid states from insisting upon representation for those competent to stand trial but who suffer from severe mental illness to the point where they are not competent to conduct trial proceedings by themselves.

In order to be found competent to stand trial, it must be determined that a defendant has the ability to understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings against him or to assist in his defense, or both. He must also have the ability to knowingly and intelligently appreciate his right to legal representation in a trial and appreciate the right to wave that right.

Because of Indiana v. Edwards, that criteria is expanded when the defendant wishes to represent himself. The person doing the evaluation, in this case Dr. Terry Killian, M.D., should address the defendant's ability for:

  • Reviewing voluminous discovery in written, audio, and visual format
  • Organizing this discovery in a meaningful way
  • Ability to think coherently, objectively and without delusions
  • Ability to maintain temper
  • Ability to recount relevant facts
  • Ability to understand courtroom developments
  • Ability to maintain focus for hours at a time
  • Ability to formulate and express thoughts in a coherent and logical manner both verbally and in written form
  • Proper motivation to represent himself
  • Cognition, perception, concentration and information processing
  • Ability to think on one's feet

The criteria I noted above are a "cliff notes" version of the Fitness Order issued by Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart on October 27. The first page of the fitness order addresses the competency to stand trial and the second page addresses the defendant's ability to represent himself and instruction if defendant is not fit to stand trial. You can download or print these documents for free at DocStoc, just follow the links I embeded above.

As Susan stated in her article, since Sheley's attorneys have filed notice with the court that they don't doubt their client's fitness to stand trial, Monday's hearing will be about Sheley's motion to represent himself. It's not my call but I think he would be wise to keep his attorneys....kind of like a might not like them but at least they know what they're doing.

Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 15, 2008

Fitness Hearing Scheduled in Nicholas Sheley Case.

A hearing on defendant's motion for determination of bona fide doubt is scheduled for Dec. 22 at 1:00 p.m. I plan on attending the hearing and will report what happens as soon as possible after.

Nicholas Sheley, a 29 year old Sterling, IL man is accused of a two-state killing spree that left eight people dead, in late June.
Sheley is being held in Galesburg, IL on a $10 million bond where he is charged in the death of Ronald Randall, 65, of Galesburg. If convicted, Sheley will face the death penalty.

At a hearing Sept. 19, Sheley told the court he wanted to fire his attorneys, James Harrell and Jeremy Karlin, and represent himself. He accused the pair of “sophisticated fast-lawyer talk” and said they were not adhering to his wishes for a speedy trial and his wishes were being “blown off as unimportant.”

Ninth Circuit Judge James Stewart said Sheley must undergo a fitness hearing 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.

Hopefully this hearing will shed some light on how this trial will proceed. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

KTLA Showing a Short Clip of Opening Statements In Spector Retrial

The retrial of Phil Spector started a month ago, but you certainly wouldn't know it based on news reports or lack thereof. I won't go into a rant about that, instead I'll focus on what is out there this week.

As I have mentioned before, Sprocket at Trials and Tribulations has been attending the retrial and blogging about her experiences there. She mentioned in her entry for yesterday, December 1, (day 11 of testimony) that Harriet Ryan of the LA times had attended court for a bit in the afternoon session.

Ms. Ryan did an interesting piece on the trial. I found her article here on More on her article in a bit, what really caught my eye was a less than 2 minute clip from opening statements on the same page as Ms. Ryan's article. Sprocket reported early on there was a pool camera in court for opening statements but this is the first I have seen of them.
I WANT MORE! Alan Jackson is so riveting and I would love to see Truc Do (prosecution co-council) in action as well. Will we get the opening statements in 2 minute increments? I wish I knew, of course I'll report if I find it anywhere. Please let me know if any of you find something as well. OK?

Back to Harriet Ryan's article, while she attended court yesterday and posted the article yesterday, it had nothing about yesterday's testimony in it. The article focuses on Spector's defense strategy this time around. Rather than try to portray Spector as a gracious and generous eccentric as the defense did in round one, Doran Weinberg paints a much different picture of Spector. Weinberg goes so far as to describe Spector as a gun-obsessed boor with a mouth filthier than a truck stop restroom and mood swings as sharp and scary as a dagger. Whew!
The point of this is to show that Spector pulls guns on everyone, not just women. The approach, his lawyer says, is the only way to combat what the defense considers the most damning evidence against Spector in the fatal 2003 shooting of actress Lana Clarkson: the testimony of five women who say he terrorized them with guns under similar circumstances. Whatever.

IMO, The testimony of Adriano De Souza (Spector’s alternate driver on February 2nd, 2003) is the most damning as it is pretty much a confession of sorts. I think the legal term is an "Excited Utterance". De Souza's testimony ended yesterday. My impression from Sprocket's report is that De Souza held up pretty well even though Weinberg did his best to discredit him. We'll have to wait and see how this jury perceives it all. There is still a long way to go and at the rate it's going this trial will probably last as long as round one.

One last thought I wanted to share. Beth Karas of InSession (CTV) has attended the trial a few days in an unofficial capacity. Beth did call in a report to Jamie Floyd of Best Defense and I thought it interesting she reported Dr. Michael Baden won't be back for this trial. Do you think his reputation couldn't withstand another "aha" moment or does Phil just not have enough money this time around? Probably both! Sphere: Related Content